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EPISCOPAL DIVINITY SCHOOL
EUCHARISTIC LITURGY AS EMANCIPATORY PERFORMANCE: THE
SIGNIFICANCE OF INDIAN STREET THEATRE
M Phil, Columbia University, 1974
MA, Columbia University, 1971
Submitted in partial fulfillment of the
requirements for the degree of
MASTER OF DIVINITY
Christopher Duraisingh, B.A., B^D., MTh., Th.D, D.D.
Professor of Applied Theology
Gale A. Yee, B.A., MA., PhD
Interim Director of Studies in Feminist Liberation Theologies
and Visiting Associate Professor of Hebrew Bible and
M Div nr
M Div II
I am grateful beyond words that I was able to undertake and complete this project under
the guidance of Professor Christopher Duraisingh, the Otis Charles Professor of Applied
Theology at Episcopal Divinity School. Since I first met him I have admired the way
imagination, intellect, and feeling flow in him in a single stream. He truly possesses the
trait T.S. Eliot attributed to John Donne — a "unified sensibility."
During this past year, his patient, sensitive, and demanding pedagogy pushed me
to boldly go beyond beyond tentativeness and a distanced academic voice and learn to
speak out of the authority ( ^ouoia — "from the source") of my years as a performer. I
hope that in my preaching, writing, and teaching to come I can draw more and deeply on
that source and at least approach the formation of a unified sensibility in myself.
With deep affection I remember the many people I met in South India who spent time in
conversation with me and generously shared their work and their lives. In Bangalore and
area: Sathianathan and Prema Clarke, Jyoti Sahi, M.C. and Jyoti Raj, Ramanna, Xavier,
David and Corinne Scott, Michael Traber, Sham P. Thomas, Chris Furtado, Alex
Oomens, Christine Bell, and Anne Vroom. In Chennai: Deenabandhu and Vinita
Manchala, Mungai, N. Muthuswamy, Palani, Devika, and Pralayan. In Madurai: J.
Theophilus Appavoo, Charles, Abraham, and Julie. Many thanks also to Nathan Scott,
raised in India and now a puppeteer in the Pacific Northwest, whose name opened many
I want to thank my readers, Professor Gale A. Yee, Pamela Werntz, and Victoria Pearson,
for their support and enthusiasm for this work. With Pam I have enjoyed a running
conversation practically from the moment we first met, ranging over children, sacrifice,
liturgy, and why are we doing this. Our friendship is a source of great joy.
Finally, I am grateful to my husband, Will, and my son, Andy. They have put up with my
frequent physical and mental absences, have listened to my ramblings, and patiently
waited through "one more revision." My daughter, Hannah, meanwhile, continually
inspires me with her exuberant creativity.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS , iv
1 . INDIAN STREET THEATRE AS EMANCIPATORY EFFECTIVE
An Introduction to Indian Street Theatre 7
Performers in Indian Street Theatre
The Experiential Sources of Indian Street Theatre
Use of Folk Theatre Forms
Challenges Oppressive Social Structures
Indian Steet Theatre as Radical Performance 16
The Ontological Complexity of Performance 24
Performances as Nondiscursive Communication 26
Performance Space and Time
Symbols in Performance
How are Performances Effective? 37
Emancipatory Performance 45
2. EUCHARISTIC RITUAL AS EMANCIPATORY RITUAL
Ritual as Performance 54
Ritual Performances as Nondiscursive Communication 59
Ritual Space and Time
Symbols in Ritual Performance
Ritual Performances and Ontological Complexity 65
The Efficacy of Ritual Performances 68
Ritual and Revelatory Efficacy
Ritual and Constitutive Efficacy
Ritual and Operational Efficacy
The Rite II Eucharistic Liturgy as Effective Performance 74
Space and Time
Indian Street Theatre and Eucharistic Liturgy: Towards
a More Emancipatory Performance 93
Ritual Space and Time
In July, 1998, 1 travelled to South India on a grant from the Seminary Consultation
on Mission. The focus of my work was the use of street theatre in India as a tool in the
struggle for liberation. This project arose partly out of a life-long passion for performance
which led me to a career as a professional puppeteer, writing, designing, and performing
productions based on folk tales. I was inspired, as well, by my developing commitment to
mission understood as missio Dei, the "saving love of the suffering God," 1 whose task is
to create a "human community in which the forces of love, justice, and peace may prevail
over the powers of hate, oppression, and inhumanity." 2
While I was still in India I became fascinated with the question of the relationship
between the socially committed theatre work I was encountering — which I saw as very
much a collaboration with the missio Dei — and sacramental liturgy. While street theatre
and sacramental liturgy may seem radically disparate, I became convinced that they are in
fact intimately linked in at least four ways: a. they are performances; b. they aim to be
effective; c. the intended effect is transformation, and d. the nature of the hoped-for
'C. S. Song, "An Asian View of Mission," in Christian Mission, Jewish Mission ed.
Martin A. Cohen and Helga Croner (New York: Paulist Press, 1982), 171.
2 Ibid., 185.
transformation is expressed by a family of terms including 'liberation,' 'emancipation,'
'salvation,' and 'redemption. With the example of Indian street theatre before me, I began
to question why that other kind of effective performance, sacramental liturgy, often seems
to ignore suffering, suppress or disembody hope, and promote stasis rather than
transformation. This paper is an attempt to look at Eucharistic liturgy through the lens of
Indian street theatre, with the hope that the latter will suggest specific ways to re-form the
performance of Eucharistic liturgies so that they may more effectively mediate the
sacramental promise of liberation/salvation.
During my time in India, I was confronted starkly with the unearned privilege that
accrues to me by virtue of being a middle-class Euro- American woman. In my work on
this paper, I have been continually aware of the incongruity of my voice as this woman,
addressing others with similar privilege, making use of the insights gained from my
experience with a theatre performed for and often by people who live on the edge of
survival, without what I consider basic necessities, excluded from the dominant society,
marginalized, expendable. I have realized the extent to which I lead a protected life, in
which the risks I take are mostly professional and are cushioned by an underlying
The encounters I had in India and the layers of realization I have passed through
during the writing of this thesis have precipitated over time a kind of conversion
experience. I have always loved liturgy passionately. Now, as a result of my experiences
over the past year, my commitment to the search for more emancipatory performance, to
more powerful evocations of the liberative heart of liturgy for both privileged and
nonprivileged groups of worshippers, has come more and more to define my sense of
INDIAN STREET THEATRE AS EMANCIPATORY EFFECTIVE PERFORMANCE
Packed into a Landrover, the performers travel out at dusk from the small city of
Tumkur in south India. Once out of the city, they leave the main road and travel along
narrower roads with fields of bananas and rice on either side. Women walk along the
edge of the road with jars of water on their heads; here a boy drives home a few cows;
there a group of girls trots alongside a herd of goats. An oxcart creaks by, piled with hay.
The truck stops at a cross roads and two more actors tuck themselves into the truck. The
truck turns up a rough road, past a village temple, past small clay and cinderblock houses,
then passes through an oddly clear area — no buildings at all — and the road narrows even
more. That blank space is a boundary between the first, slightly more affluent looking
village where the people belonging to the four Hindu castes live, and the village reserved
for the Dalits, the "Untouchables," who are, according to the Hindu world view both
outside the "Hindu human community" 3 and a source of ritual pollution to caste Hindus.
3 Sathianathan Clarke, Dalits and Christianity: Subaltern Religions and Liberation
Theology in India (Calcutta: Oxford University Press, 1998), 18. The word 'Dalit' means
"'oppressed,' 'broken,' and 'crushed,' which most realistically describes the lives of almost
all of those who are part of this cluster of communities" (ibid). The term has been self-
chosen and self-applied by people belonging to this group, as the term "black" was by
African- Americans during the 1960's Civil Rights movement in the United States.
The truck bumps down one more street, slowed by people from the village who
call to the actors through the windows, and walk along with the truck until it pulls over.
The performers pile out, straighten their simple costumes of white pants, long white tops
and red sashes, pull their drums and a few props out of the truck. Suddenly the mood is
festive, as the actors and villagers make their way in a laughing, bantering procession to a
tiny central "square" lit only by a single electric light on a pole. Little girls dance to pop
music blaring from a loudspeaker as men and women pull out logs for seats or crowd
together on mats or on the dusty ground. The performers form a circle in the middle of the
space, sitting cross legged, some with their frame drums on their laps. The playing area
defined by the circle of actors is tiny, no larger than 10' in diameter. The space feels
Ramanna, the leader of the performer and composer of the songs and plays, starts
to drum and sing. His style is forceful — he drives the song out, his intensity heightening
the excitement. Then the first play begins: A Dalit couple borrows 5,000 rupees from the
rich landowner for whom they work. To seal the bargain, the man puts his thumb print on
a blank paper. When they succeed in selling enough produce to pay back the money they
borrowed, he tells them "no, no, look at this contract — you borrowed 15,000 rupees." The
couple is on the brink of losing the tiny piece of land they own to their wealthy boss in
repayment of the "debt," but they are saved through an act of Dalit solidarity: their friends
accompany the couple to the landowner and threaten that they'll go to the police.
Intimidated, the landowner relents and declares the debt fully paid.
The story unfolds through acted scenes using both dialogue and mime, alternating
with songs led by Ramanna in a popular call-and-response form in which the audience
joins the actors in singing the response. Each scene builds to a climax, and at the most
intense moment of threat or violence, the actors freeze, holding their pose while the other
performers sing a commentary on the action.
Play follows play late into the night, vignettes from a life of hard agricultural
labor — 1 1 hours a day in the fields, six or seven days a week; poverty — in this work they
earn less than $100 per year; violence, exclusion, oppression. In one play, a father sells
his children into bonded labor, a form of virtual slavery. The refrain of the song is
"Daddy, please let me go to school." Another, called "Untouchability," begins with a
Dalit man fainting from the heat. A friend dips a towel into a caste community well, an
act which, since Dalits are from the caste Hindu point of view ritually impure, "pollutes"
the well. When the friend is caught he's dragged before a panchayat or "court" of caste
people and falsely accused. Meanwhile, three men from the village plot to rape his wife.
During the plays, the members of the audience frequently sit absorbed, sometimes
laugh, often comment to each other about what is happening, Toddlers wander about;
every once in a while a man who has been drinking off in the shadows shouts out an
Finally, the performance ends. Mothers, exhausted from working in the fields all
day, pick up sleeping babies and shoo their older children in front of them toward their
homes. A few people stay and talk with the performers about the plays or what is
happening in their lives. The performers — themselves Dalits from villages nearby who
work in the fields during the days — pack their drums back in the truck and drive away.
They'll hop out one by one at their villages along the way back to Tumkur.
An Introduction to Indian Street Theatre
This street theatre performance took place last July in a Dalit village in the district
of Tumkur in the south Indian state of Karnataka. Ramanna, a composer and playwright
who is himself a Dalit, is on the staff of a social action group called REDS, the Rural
Education Development Society, which is dedicated to the empowerment of Dalits and
which uses street performance as an integral part of its efforts.
A closer look at several features of the REDS performance will serve as an
introductory overview of Indian street theatre in general. 4 First, the production was
initiated and supported by a nongovernmental organization (NGO) and it was created and
performed by Dalits for Dalits. Second, the topics of the performance were drawn from
the sorts of events with which the members of the audience have to contend in their daily
life. Third, the performance made use of forms of theatre rooted in the folk tradition.
Fourth, the small plays represented not personal conflicts, but structural oppression. A
4 In this paper, I will be using "street theatre" in the Indian context to refer to a kind of
politically oriented theatre. This is a common usage, both in India and elsewhere,
although other terms are used, including "Popular Theatre" (by Jacob Srampickal, Voice to
the Voiceless: The Power of People's Theatre in India [London: Hurst & Company, 1994])
and "Theatre of Liberation" (by Eugene Van Erven, The Playful Revolution
(Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1992).
brief look at each of these characteristics — the performers, the kinds of events which
generate the performances, the forms used, and the focus or object of the
performances — will open up for us something of the history and character of
contemporary Indian street theatre.
Performers in Indian Street Theatre
The REDS performance is fairly typical of Indian political street theatre in that the
"cultural team" of nonprofessional street theatre performers is sponsored by an NGO or
social action group as one face of its outreach program. It is difficult for Western
observers to realize the extent to which drama is considered an intrinsic part of work for
social change in India. For example, in the manual designed by REDS for its extensive
training program to empower Dalit villagers for political action, the first two items in the
list of skills to be developed are songs and dramas, "especially street plays." 5 Since before
India's struggle for independence, social activists and writers have been creating plays
designed to be performed for and in some cases by poor and working-class people.
Theatre historian Jacob Srampickal considers pivotal actions connected with the Indian
struggle for independence as forms of street theatre: ". . . Gandhi's Salt March at Dandi
(1930) . . . contained elements normally associated with street theatre. The march and the
picking up of the salt was a staging. It was a community activity involving actors and
5 M.C. Raj, Participatory Training Methodology: A Process and Content for
Empowerment (Madras: Dialogue Group, no date), p. 37.
audience and asserting the public's rights against the threats of an oppressor." 6 An overtly
theatrical and highly influential nationwide movement began with the founding in 1942
of IPTA (Indian People's Theatre Association) by the Communist Party of India. With an
explicit agenda of spreading "nationalist and socialist ideals," 7 IPTA sent performing
groups to both cities and rural areas to perform for working-class and peasant groups
After independence, IPTA and other left-wing groups continued to perform, while the
new government formed the SDD, the Song and Drama Division, whose aim, according
to Srampickal, was to "promote national unity and to persuade the rural poor to accept
reformist and government controlled ways for dealing with problems like population
explosion, poverty, casteism, bonded labor, lack of housing and illiteracy." 8
While social action groups have included dramatic performances as an intrinsic
part of their outreach efforts, theatre activists — actors, writers, and directors — have also
created important street theatre productions. One of the best known independent street
theatre groups is Janam, founded in New Delhi by Safdar Hashmi in the early 1970's.
Janam, whose name means "the people" in the sense of the masses or the oppressed, was
primarily known for its performances on behalf of industrial workers. In January, 1989,
Hashmi was murdered, allegedly at the behest of right wing politicians, during a
6 Srampickal, 102.
7 Ibid., 47.
8 Ibid, 49.
performance of a Janam play whose theme was the government's repression of the labor
In the cases of the social action groups and theatre practitioners, Indian street
theatre is performed primarily by middle-class or possibly working-class people for those
who are poor, or excluded from power in the society by the caste system or by gender.
But there is an active movement in which theatre artists or social action groups teach the
villagers themselves the skills to make plays based on their own life circumstances. Ross
Kidd and Mamunur Rashid, two theatre activists who have worked extensively
throughout Asia to spread this kind of theatre, describe their experience of the impact of
doing this kind of theatre on a community of oppressed people:
Getting the landless laborers to do the work transformed the whole
process: the laborers' doing the 'acting' . . . could become the first aware-
ness-raising and confidence-building step in their taking real action .
The activity of drama-making could become a group-building ex-
perience in which participants deepened their understanding, bol-
stered their morale, and developed the courage and organizational
unity to fight for their rights. 9
An interesting technique which combines actor-generated and "people"-generated
street theatre is for the performers to throw the story open to audience comment or direct
participation at some point in the action. In a street theatre production created in response
to the burning of a mosque by Hindu fundamentalists in December 1993, a group of
9 Ross Kidd and Mamunur Rashid, "People's Theatre and Landless Organizing in
Bangladesh," in Social Activists and People's Movements, ed. Walter Fernandes (New
Delhi: Indian Social Institute, 1985), 73.
theatre activists in Madras created a play based on a familiar folktale in which a king
must solve a riddle posed by a ghost. The actor playing the king can't answer the question
why the mosque was burned. The ghost then turns to the audience and asks them the
riddle, opening a conversation between the actors and audience and members of the
audience with each other. 10 In a play raising the issue of female infanticide, created by the
director Mungai (V. Padma) and her troupe, Voicing Silence, the performers act out
several alternative ways a pregnant wife and husband might react to the knowledge that
the baby the woman is carrying is a girl. Then they simply stop the action and turn the
question to the audience: what should the couple do? The highly charged, emotional
discussion that follows touches upon not only female infanticide but the related problem
In this brief look at Indian street theatre from the point of view of the performers,
we have noted three kinds of performers: a. social activists for whom performance is one
phase of their social outreach, b. theatre artists, and c. people who are themselves
oppressed and create performances out of their day-to-day lives. A combined form
involves the enlisting of audience's active participation in the outcome of the play.
The Experiential Sources of Indian Street Theatre
10 Palani, interview by author, Madras, 16 July, 1998. (Note: in South India, it is not
unusual for people to be known by a single name.)
"Mungai, Pacha Manu [The New Born] (Madras: M.S. Swaminathan Research
Foundation, 1997), video recording.
No matter who performs Indian street theatre, however, it is essential that the
content of the performances arises from the experience of oppressed people. Indian street
theatre performances arise out of and speak directly to the daily experience of the janam,
the people. The men and women to whom the REDS cultural team was playing earn
between 10 and 15 rupees a day (approximate 20 to 30 cents per day) for 1 1 or 12 hour
days in the fields. They often find themselves caught in situations — a house needing
repair, an illness, the marriage of a daughter — in which they must borrow money and the
large landowner for whom they work is the only resource. After one performance I
witnessed, the villagers and REDS actors and staff talked late into the night about what
sorts of responses to this kind of situation were open to them. The penalty for failing to
repay the debt is frequently the loss of the little land they possess. Standing up to the
landlord would mean the loss of employment in those fields and possible blackballing by
landowners in the surrounding area. The other plays that night also spoke to their
situation: children are sold into bonded labor; as Dalits they are in danger of being raped,
assaulted, and even murdered for perceived transgressions of caste boundaries or simply
for being Dalit.
Use of Folk Theatre Forms
A third characteristic of Indian street theatre is the integration of folk theatre
forms into the performance. In the REDS performance, the use of song and of somewhat
formalized body movements echoed in simpler form the elaborate dance and mime plays
of the folk tradition. For many street theatre performers, whether theatre professionals or
members of social action groups, the use of folk theatre forms intensifies the power of
their plays to communicate with the audience. One activist theatre group in Madras
invited a Sri Lankan director, Ilaya Bathmanatan, to teach them techniques drawn from
the rich folk performance traditions of Tamil Nadu, the geographic and linguistic region
within which Madras is located. 12 Under Bathmanatan's influence, the troupe began to
incorporate more traditional forms — dance, music, costumes, body movement, and
makeup — in its political street performances. Palani, a young actor who participated in
the training program, noticed a clear difference in the response of the audience to the
forms which were rooted in their folk tradition. "The use of traditional forms involved
people much more," he noted. "These are their forms, they link to their identity." 13
A powerful example of the use of folk and even classical performance forms is the
Kala Jatha (Art Procession) of the Kerala Sastra Sahituya Parishad (KSSP). The KSSP is
a nongovernmental voluntary organization, formed in 1957 in Kerala in south India as a
"people's science moment," which now focusses primarily on the search for alternative
models of development to those promulgated by the Indian government or international
agencies. 14 Organizers found that mass media and even personal visitation were
12 Tamil Sri Lanka shares the same cultural and linguistic folk culture as Tamil Nadu.
13 Palani, interview by author. Chennai (Madras), 8 July 1998.
14 Sham P. Thomas, "The Use of Various Media for Development with Special Reference
to the Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishad" (M Th. thesis, Tamilnadu Theological Seminary,
inadequate for achieving their aim. Instead they discovered that "it is the traditional media
which can help Parishad to reach out to this people [peasants and working class] who are
to be the initiators and masters of development." 15 Artists have adapted a wide variety of
indigenous performance forms including classical temple dances, folk drama, and
storytelling, to address the themes of "the power of science, the need to free science from
the vested interests, . . ., health, pollution, education, development, . . . , corruption, self-
reliance, etc." 16 Then several times a year, actors, singers, and dancers participate in a
Kala Jatha "procession" which travels throughout the state of Kerala, performing these
pieces in public spaces. Of all the modes of communication used by the KSSP, the use of
traditional media was ranked by Keralites familiar with Parashad as significantly more
effective than any other media used by the group. In fact, "... irrespective of gender, age,
education, and professional differences the respondents consider traditional media as the
most effective means of communication." 17 Among the reasons respondents gave for
preferring traditional media were that it is "our own cultural form" which is accessible to
all, involves direct contact, and communicates through enacting people's problems. 18
Madurai, India, 1996), 45.
16 Ibid. 105.
17 Ibid., 127. It must be noted that in the survey cited, younger respondents ranked
traditional media slightly lower than "group media," i.e., interpersonal contact (126-7).
18 Ibid., 132-3.
Challenges Oppressive Social Structures
The final characteristic of Indian street theatre is exemplified in the REDS
performance described above and present in the other examples I have cited: while they
are emotionally powerful in their presentation of personal suffering, this suffering is
understood and presented as arising out of unjust social structures. From Gandhi's Salt
March to the IPPA performances of the Indian Communist Party to the current flourishing
of street theatre as an arm of the movement for Dalit liberation, Indian street theatre has
been a "radical" movement in the sense of "acts that question or re-envision ingrained
social arrangements of power." 19 In the play described in the introduction, the village
audience understands that the couple's plight and the risk to their land is not (simply) a
crisis for the couple which is "their own fault," but is a result of the linked oppressions of
caste and class structure in contemporary India which must be addressed through Dalit
solidarity. As Jacob Srampickal says about the response of Indian street theatres to the
Bhopal gas tragedy, "while the official media were content with providing statistics on
the extent of the damage, it was the street theatre groups who focused the attention of the
people on the wider aspects of exploitation by multinationals and the continuing horrors
19 Jan Cohen-Cruz, Radical Street Performance (New York: Routledge, 1998), 1. 1 would
amend this definition to read, "acts that question and envision . . . arrangements of
of the tragedy." 20 Pralayan, founder of the street theatre troupe Chennai (Madras) Kalai
Kuzhu, makes the overt political thrust of this kind of work perfectly clear when he says,
"Why do street theatre? We do it because of its mobility, handiness, cost-effectiveness,
because it is close to people and not confined to any particular kind of space. But why do
we choose to do street theatre? The answer is always political, it has to be." 21 In other
words, Pralayan and other Indian street theatre performers understand themselves to be
committed to a political vocation, indeed a radical political vocation which challenges
and re-envisions the structures of power in Indian society.
Indian Street Theatre as Radical Performance
Why, in India and elsewhere, do social action groups and other liberation
movements use street theatre as an integral part of their efforts to change the political and
cultural structures of society? In the case of India, can the pervasiveness of this use of
theatre be attributed simply to a millennia-long cultural history in which an incredible
diversity of dramatic and dance forms have flourished? 22 It is my position that while the
existence of this theatrical tradition provides a deep source of inspiration for Indian
20 Srampickal, 211.
2 'Pralayan, "Why do we choose to do street theatre?," Seagull Theatre Quarterly 16
(Dec, 1997), 74.
22 Srampickal lists 77 "major folk theatre forms" in India. Voice, 61.
activists, 23 they find street theatre an effective instrument of social change because of the
very nature of performance itself. In this section I will begin to clarify this position by
examining the notions of performance and radical performance.
What are the primary characteristics of performance? During the past decades a
great deal of work has been done in the theory of performance by both anthropologists
like Victor Turner and theorists of theatre and I will draw on this work in my analysis of
the nature of performance.
1. Performance is first of all embodied action in space and time. 24 It is not a daydream or
phantasm; it involves physical objects — including human bodies — in relation to one
another in space, and it is temporal or processual — it begins, goes on, and comes to an
end. The anthropologist Victor Turner discerns this processual quality of performance in
the very etymology of the word: "Performance ... is derived from the Middle English
parfournen, later parfourmen, which is itself from the Old French parfournir — par
('thoroughly') plus fournir ('to furnish') — hence performance does not have the
23 A poster for "Koothu-P-Pattarai," an influential, socially committed theatre in Chennai
(Madras), features a photo of a performer of theru-kootu (a traditional theatre form in
Tamil Nadu) and a poem: "Theru-k-kootu, our pride, our source of new aesthetics. Let us
celebrate its joy, its dance, its glory everywhere."
24 In this study I am restricting 'performance' to refer to those performances which involve
human actors (as such or augmented, for example, with masks or puppets).
structuralist implication of manifesting form, but rather the processual sense of 'bringing
to completion' or 'accomplishing.' To perform is thus to complete a more or less involved
process rather than to do a single deed or act." 25
As embodied and processual, performances are complex acts involving bodies,
movements, space, colors and shapes, sounds, atmosphere, pace, rhythm, and plot or
"flow." Performances "play with" or "play through" a multiplicity of elements which have
been (to some extent at least) deliberately organized and ordered. Performances are "sym-
bolic," in the suggestive etymological sense of that word: in making a performance all
sorts of elements are creatively "thrown together" to make a dynamic whole. 26
2. Communication is intrinsic to performance. A performance is a communication event:
a. It assumes an observer, it is "that kind of doing in which the observation of the
deed is an essential part of its doing, even if the observer be invisible or is the performer
herself." 27 In the example of the performance in the Dalit village described above, it was
the gathering of the audience which signalled that there would in fact be a
performance — the "talk-through" rehearsal of the play by the actors in the truck
beforehand would not count as a performance.
15 Victor Turner, From Ritual to Theatre: The Human Seriousness of Play (New York:
PAJ Publications, 1982), 91.
26 Jyoti Sahi, The Child and the Serpent: Reflections on Popular Indian Symbols
(Bangalore: Asian Trading Corporation, 1980), 18.
27 Tom Driver, The Magic of Ritual (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1991), 81.
b. It is understood as a performance by the performers. Schechner identifies this
characteristic of performance as "twice-behaved behavior," or "known and/or practiced
behavior." 28 This does not require a written text or formal rehearsal; depending on the
nature of the performance, the performers may need only consciously follow a set of
rules, as, for example, in sports or theatrical improvisation. 29 But whether the
performance is based on a text or generated from improvisation, the performers must
intend to communicate to the observers or audience, must "play" to them.
c. It is a communication within a particular system of symbols, meanings, and
conventions. If there were not a shared system of conventions, the event would not even
be experienced as "a performance," but merely as a sequence of behaviors. As the theatre
director and theorist Richard Schechner has observed, "... what is performed is
encoded — I want to say nested, trapped, contained, distilled, held, restrained,
metaphorized — in one or more special kinds of communication: either as a mixture of
narrative and Hindu temple service as in Ramlila, or as fixed narrative and individual
creativity as in any . . . productions of, say, Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard . . ." 30 And
28 Schechner, Performative Circumstances: From the Avant Garde to Ramlila (Calcutta:
Seagull Books, 1983), 91.
29 The recent film, The Truman Show, in which a young man is unaware that his "reality"
is a television show in which all the other characters are actors, tests this condition of
performance. However, the fact that at least some of those involved know that they are
performing does qualify it as a performance in my sense.
30 Richard Schechner, Performative Circumstances, 90.
without shared symbols and meanings, no communication at all can take place. For
example, a Eucharist performed in a Hindu village or a theru-kootu dance performed on
the streets of Cambridge may be considered simply as odd, incomprehensible sets of
behavior or even if they are recognized as performances, they will not be apprehended as
the performers mean them to be. 31
In this section, we have looked at performance from the perspective of
performance theory and seen that a performance is a complex, embodied, processual
event which intrinsically involves communication among observers and self-aware
performers within a shared system of symbols, conventions, and meanings. While this
may seem a quite abstract way to understand an event as vital, sensuous, and exciting as
an actual performance, I believe that this point of view begins to hint at the sources of the
power of performance, the power which Indian street theatre counts on to effect social
In my discussion of Indian street theatre above I invoked a definition of "radical"
as "acts that question and re-envision ingrained social arrangements of power." 32 It might
be well to push the definition even farther, modifying it to read, "acts that challenge and
3 'See John Heilpern, Conference of the Birds: The Story of Peter Brook in Africa
(London: Faber, 1977) for an amusing and illuminating example of a European
experimental theatre troupe touring African villages in search of "universal theatre."
32 Adapted from Cohen-Cruz, Radical Street Performance, 1 .
re-envision . . . ." This would draw on the etymology of the word 'radical.' to convey the
fact that "radical" performances aim at social changes at the very "root" of society.
The definition I am working with derives from a discussion of radical street
performance by the theatre activist and theorist Jan Cohen-Cruz. Radical performance in
Cohen-Cruz' sense covers a wide variety of historical and contemporary performances, all
of which challenge and re-envision the prevailing power structures: the theatrical plays
of the 20th century German playwright Bertolt Brecht, who exposed the stage machinery
and required his actors not to express the feelings of the characters they played but rather
their own critical attitudes towards the characters — all in order to break down the
empathy the audience might feel for the characters and provoke instead critical, political
reflection on the social situations underlying the dramatic events; the rallies and marches
of the Ku Klux Klan and the Third Reich, both intending to advance the hegemony of a
"master race"; the silent vigils of Las Madres de la Plaza de Mayo, mourning their sons
and daughters who "disappeared" during the Dirty War in Argentina; the Dalit village
performance we looked at above; and, finally, even the prophetic performances in the
Hebrew Scriptures — I think especially of Ezekiel, lying on his left side for 390 days in
the city center next to a miniature construction representing the siege of Jerusalem, all as
"a sign for the house of Israel" (Ez. 4: 1-4).
How does radical performance relate to the analysis of performance developed in
the last section? Let us look briefly at how the elements of performance in general are
instantiated in radical performance.
First, like all performances, radical performances are complex, processual
embodiments in space and time. But the embodiments presented in radical performance
have two characteristics distinguishing them from other performances: 1. since they are
by definition in a more or less explicit confrontation with the power structures of the
particular social context with which they are being performed, the content — the
characters, plots, arrangements of the playing space, songs, etc. — is constructed in
opposition to specific social facts. This may be accomplished in a variety of ways. In the
Dalit performance described above, for example, the foreman of the landlord was a
buffoon, and even as he conspired with the landlord to cheat the peasants, he was an
object of ridicule for the audience whom they could disempower through laughter. 2.
Radical performances to some extent re-envision alternative social structures. In the
dramatic world of the performance, Dalit peasants stood together in solidarity and thereby
saved the couple's land. While this may not (yet) have happened in daily reality, it has at
least come to be within the performance. This is a crucial feature of the effectiveness of
radical performance which I will discuss in detail below.
Second, the nature of the performance as a communication event between
performers and audience also takes on a distinctive character in radical performance. 1 .
The performers are aware of themselves and their actions with respect to two different
sets of actual or potential observers — those who are relatively powerless in the society
and those who are beneficiaries and/or agents of "ingrained social arrangements of
power," in Cohen-Cruz' phrase. Radical performance is by its nature a challenge; it
"draws people who comprise a contested reality into what its creators hope will be a
changing script." 33 Even when a radical performance is played before an audience which
supports the position expressed in it, there exists a potential audience of persons hostile to
the critique it embodies. Radical performances can mean real risk for both performers and
audience. 2. In radical performances, the relationship between the performers and the
observers, while often beginning as a neutral relationship, is often intended to be changed
during the course of the performance. In some cases the performers hope to enlist from
the audience fellow workers for social change. In others, the performers try to enter into a
fuller, more personal relationship with the audience through the performance. For
example, in Mungai's street theatre play about female infanticide, 34 the performance
begins and ends in lively human contact between performers and audience. The
performers laugh, converse, and sing with the villagers as they walk to the performance
space, literally entering into the audience's social world. And then the performance "ends"
with an open discussion by actors and villagers.
In this section, we have seen that radical performance has significant properties
which distinguish it from other kinds of performance. It is created to stand in opposition
to prevailing social structures and to pose alternatives to them. As a communication
event, the performers play implicitly or explicitly both to those who are oppressed by
See page 1 1 above.
existing social arrangements and to those who benefit, and the relationship between
performers and audience changes through the duration of the performance.
The Ontological Complexity of Performance
When the REDS performers, in the tiny bit of village street that was their "stage,"
began to enact the story of the Dalit couple being cheated by the wealthy landowner, a set
of profound changes took place. The performance layered, upon the ordinary daily life of
the village and within that dusty little circle where the story was being played, a different
space and time, the space and time of the embodied story. The actors, whom the audience
knew as fellow peasants, became at the same time other people — the landowner, foreman,
couple, supporters. The relationship of acquaintances and social equals became overlayed
with different kinds of relationships — that between the performers and the audience, and,
among the performers, the different social relationships they were enacting.
This layering of dramatic space and time upon daily space and time, of assumed
character upon ordinary identity, of new patterns of relationship upon normal patterns is
at the heart of performance and is a primary source of its power to effect change. I call
this pivotal characteristic the ontological complexity of performance. In the ontological
complexity of a performance, new realities come to be. They do not replace ordinary lived
reality, but are conjoined in, layered with, a wider reality composed of both the dramatic
and the daily worlds. For the duration of the performance both worlds are real and so is
their coexistence. 35
The ontological complexity of performance allows it to be effective primarily by
providing the opportunity for looseness, slippage, imbalance — in a performance event,
reality is no longer "all of a piece" because other possibilities are brought into existence,
As Richard Schechner says, we may identify in performances the "recurrent theme" of
"'provisionality,' the unsteadiness, slipperiness, porosity, unreliability, and ontological
riskiness of the realities projected or created by playing." 36 There is a certain amount of
"play" in the integral reality comprised of the coexistent realities of the dramatic and the
quotidian worlds; because of this the ordinary, accepted, commonsensical world can be
"toyed with" and alternatives "entertained." 37 Once this has happened, situations and
structures which have been taken for granted in the ordinary world, the world of
"common sense," are rendered contingent and questionable.
This experience of imbalance or slipperiness due to the juxtaposition of dramatic
and ordinary realities into a new reality can also be understood as a kind of liminal
experience in which structures held to be rigidly fixed are felt as dissolved or broken
down. Victor Turner describes those who undergo the experience of liminality as
35 When Tom Driver speaks of performance as involving both "physical and mental, actual
and imaginary," he, I believe, missing the integrity of both worlds and of their
coexistence. Driver, Magic, 8 1 .
36 Richard Schechner, The Future of Ritual (New York: Routledge, 1993), 39.
37 It is fascinating to me how the English words in the quotation marks underline the
"pass[ing] through a cultural realm that has few or none of the attributes of the past or
coming state." 38 Although Turner's discussion of liminality is primarily directed towards
ritual and especially to rites of passage, he points to what I am describing as the
disorienting quality of the ontological complexity of any performance when he says, "...
the most characteristic midliminal symbolism is that of paradox, or being both this and
Whether what happens in the confrontation with the complex reality of a
performance is described as a state of imbalance or of liminality, it is clear that it can be
disorienting precisely because alternatives are presented as "here" and "now," and the
existence of these alternatives can call into question the permanence and absolute-ness of
the present state. In the case of radical performance, which by its nature intends to
challenge and re-envision present reality, the ontological complexity of performance can
clearly be a powerful tool. We can see this in the play about the couple threatened with
the loss of their land: the dramatic reality embodies a situation in which Dalit solidarity
breaks down the expected, the normal, the predictable, and introduces a "what if?" whose
power will remain long after the play is over.
Performance as Nondiscursive Communication
,8 Victor Turner and Edith Turner, Image and Pilgrimage in Christian Culture (New
York: Columbia University Press, 1978), 249.
,9 Victor Turner, "Variations on a Theme of Liminality," in Secular Ritual ed. Sally F.
Moore and Barbara Meyerhoff (Assen/Amsterdam: Van Gorcum, 1977), 37.
We have looked at the ontological complexity which is an essential and powerful
feature of performance. But there can be no layering of realities — no real embodying of
alternatives — unless performers and audience are in communication with one another. A
performance is a communication event. As we noted above, this communication involves
self-aware performers, an audience, and a shared web of symbols, meanings, and
conventions evoked by the complex processual embodiment which involves actors,
movements, sounds and music, colors and shapes, rhythm and pace. It is the embodiment
and the sharing of meanings which are crucial, and while this may involve
words — dialogue or narration or lyrics — the words are only one facet of the whole
performance. In other words, what is communicated between performers and audience
within a performance is essentially nondiscursive communication. By this I mean that
what is communicated cannot be wholly captured and expressed in concepts and
true/false propositions, but must be to a large extent appropriated and understood through
the body and the heart, sensuously, kinetically, and emotionally. The fact that
performance is embodied, physical, means that it communicates through impact on the
bodies of the audience (and performers) in the forms of emotions and sensations.
In this section, I will look at three important dimensions of performance as
nondiscursive communication: 1. the layering of dramatic on ordinary space and time
resulting in the re-forming or "warping" of space-time for both the performers and the
audience; 2. the existence of the "through-line," an interior dynamism which gives a felt
unity to the performance as it moves from beginning to end, and 3. the use of symbols.
Through each of these, meanings are communicated to and through the body, arousing
emotions as well as evoking images and ideas. In order to make the discussion more
concrete, I will look briefly at how each is exemplified in Mungai's play, The Newborn.
Performance Space and Time
The layering of dramatic upon quotidian space and time begins as soon as the
performers arrive in the village. The performers, all dressed in red, begin playing hand
drums and sing and dance their way, with more and more villagers accompanying them,
to where they will do the play. During the procession they call the audience directly into
their space (which is of course a moving space and therefore involves a different time
with its own rhythm and pace) with their song:
"Come with your beautiful eyes,
Come with your attentive ears. ..."
Like the Dalit play discussed above, the performance takes place in a more or less circular
playing area defined by the actors. In this performance, though, the actors who are not
performing the play stand or sit next to and among audience members rather than forming
a circle between the playing area and the gathered audience as in the Dalit play. This
apparently slight difference is actually quite significant in that the point of The Newborn
is to rouse the villagers to actively confront the issue of female infanticide. The
performance space created by the actors standing with the audience facing the play's
action is a dramatic space which the actors can easily provoke the audience with
questions and from which audience members themselves can question the dramatic action
and even intervene in it.
The rhythm and tempo of the play is made explicit by the accompaniment of
drums. The play begins with two quick scenes of women holding babies. One newborn is
a boy ("Hurray! Congratulations!," the actors on the sidelines call out), the other a girl
("Oh, too bad, what a misfortune!"). Then the action slows so the audience can focus in
on an argument between a pregnant wife and her husband about whether to have a sex
determination test. Slowing down the tempo allows the actors in the scene time to draw
the audience more fully into the acted-out decision-making and the actors on the sidelines
to evoke and call out questions and comments from audience members.
In this example, we can begin to see how the multilayering of a new and different
space and time on ordinary space and time functions in the communication event which is
the performance. The festive procession of the actors to the playing space is like a
magnet, drawing the villagers in so that they may become an audience. Once at the
playing area, the division of the actors into those performing the scenes and those
standing among the crowd creates a space in which the dramatic action will permeate
normal space and time, rather than substitute for it — the actors and audience will
challenge each other about what is happening in the scenes.
There is another dimension to the space in this performance. Mungai targeted this
play especially to those villages where female infanticide is known to be relatively
common. This means that the location of the performance was not neutral, but had a
significance which contributed to the web of meanings communicated in the
In this description of The Newborn we can discern several characteristics of how
performance space and time function to communicate in a performance. First, dramatic
space and time are bounded — the performance begins and ends, and occurs here and not
there. This helps account for the felt intensity of a performance event. The Indian
theologian Raimon Pannikkar has vividly characterized ritual space in a way which is
applicable to all performance space and which aptly captures this character of intensity.
For Pannikkar, performance space is akahsah, a Sanskrit term which comes "from a and
kasate, to appear, shine, be brilliant. Akahsah would then be that which allows things to
appear, to be known, and ultimately to be. Akahsah is that which makes possible that
things reveal themselves. It is the 'place' of revelation . . . ." 40 Since space and time are
intimately interwoven in performance, we can extend this description to time, as well, and
say that in both the space and time of performance, "things reveal themselves."
This characteristic has a particular potency with respect to Indian street theatre
and radical performance in general. Among those things which are revealed in the
performance space and time are alternatives to the societal structures that exist in the here
and now. In radical performance, "what-is not-yet" comes to be and for the duration of the
performance coexists with "what is." The present performance space and time contains
40 Raimon Pannikkar, "There is No Outer Without Inner Space," in Concepts of Space
Ancient and Modern ed. Kapila Vatsyayan (New Delhi: Abhinav Publications, 1991), 22.
the past and future within it. The "not-yet" is not only hoped-for and imagined, but
embodied, revealed in the akahsah of performance.
Second, performance space and time are all at once "inner" and "outer," "internal"
and "external." 41 In The Newborn, the space where the performance occurs is physical
space in which objects are related at certain distances from each other and a space filled
with emotions, meanings (including that this village is a place where the murders of
female babies takes place), memories, and questionings. Analogously, the performance
lasts for a particular duration of time, but it also speeds up, slows down, agitates, calms.
The space and time of performance can be aptly described with a metaphor drawn
from physics: performance space and time are not tidy Newtonian grids and flows in
which identical elements are simply located and interacting externally with one another,
but rather an Einsteinian space-time continuum which warps to conform to a mass of
sounds, sights, intentions, emotions, meanings, memories, and hopes. It is this "warped"
performance space-time which forms the communication which occurs in a performance.
And much of this cannot be spoken, at least not in concepts, propositions, and arguments.
The almost involuntary focussing of the senses on one part of the space, the framing and
shaping of the physical space-time, the heightened sense of something being revealed or
manifested, the complex of relationships among performers and audience within the
space-time, the emotions evoked, the memories and significances brought into play — all
of these are below and beyond discourse, and are essential to the very nature of
Performance is processual — it unrolls, unravels, in and through time, and it has an
interior dynamic unity which I will call, borrowing a term from Konstantin Stanislavski,
its "through-line." Each segment or scene of the performance, besides having its own
content and rhythm, plays its part in this dynamic whole. The through-line carries with it
a host of moods, memories, and meanings for both performer and audience, and it is this
(mostly) noncognitive "stuff which swells or contracts, quickens or slows the action, and
bears us on to an ending which not only terminates the clock-time duration of the
performance, but brings the through-line to a close which is apprehended as such by both
performers and audience. The through-line is difficult to define, but it can be described
metaphorically in a variety of ways: as, for example, a thread which holds the elements of
the performance together, or as an "internal logic" or directed "flow" beneath the overt
How can we describe the through-line, the dynamic unity in The Newborn!
Briefly, we could say that it is the progressive shattering of the audience's unquestioned
acceptance of beliefs about female infanticide — and even more basically, about the worth
of women. It begins with the procession to the performing space, continues through
Mungai's (a woman's) introduction of her troupe to the villagers, moves into staccato birth
scenes broken into with questions and challenges from the audience, on to the close-up
extended decision-making of the wife and husband, and culminates with the startling shift
of the action from the actors to the audience in an open discussion of the issue and the
departure of the performers.
It is evident here how the aspect of performance which I am calling the through-
line slips through attempts to capture it in words and concepts. It is very much like trying
to describe the dynamic unity of a piece of music. In describing the "through-line" of a
musical composition, I can point to certain structural features — motifs, changes in tempi
and rhythms, key changes, shifts in instrumentation, variations on melodic themes — but
while such a discussion may illuminate and sensitize the listener as to what is going on, it
does not capture fully in words what is apprehended sensuously, viscerally. Similarly, the
through-line of the kinds of performances we are discussing does not yield to expression
in concepts; rather it is ultimately a processual unity which communicates primarily to the
body and the heart, rather than the mind.
Symbols in Performance
We have spoken earlier about performance as necessarily — in order to be a
communication event at all — occurring within a web of symbols and conventions shared
by performers and observers. It is also necessary to recognize that symbols play a crucial
role within performances. In any performance, some of the available symbols in a society
are brought together, creatively "thrown together" (sym-bolein), to become the material
of the performance. This use of symbols constitutes a third important way in which
performances communicate nondiscursively, below or beyond the level of propositions or
In The Newborn, the symbols are spare but potent: newborn baby and the gesture
of cradling a baby; boy, girl; woman, man; mother, father. All of these are culturally and
psychically loaded. They all evoke strong feelings, memories, anxieties, hopes, feelings of
"rightness" or "wrongness" based on cultural constructions of gender and valuations of
the worth of each gender. Herein lies the potency of the symbolic dimension of
performance: a cloud of emotional, imagistic, and cognitive meanings is called forth by
certain objects, gestures, characters.
What is a symbol? A symbol is distinct from other signs in that the latter simply
acts as an indicator. It points to something else different in nature from itself and has
significance solely by virtue of that pointing. For example, a low mercury level on a
thermometer indicates a particular measure of coolness. That is pretty much all it
means — we glance at the thermometer to see how cold it is outside or whether a child has
a fever, but we're not interested in the thermometer itself, just what it points to. As Avery
Dulles says, "indicative signs lack intrinsic interest. We interpret them as mere observers,
without being deeply moved by the signs themselves." 42 While symbols are physical,
perceptible objects or actions, they also function as "clues" which "draw attention to
42 Avery Dulles, S.J., Models of Revelation (Garden City, NY: Image Books, 1985), 132.
themselves." 43 When the actress playing the mother in The Newborn mimes holding a girl
baby in her arms, the members of the audience do not look beyond the baby to something
different she in some sense points to but rather becomes aware of a multiplicity of
emotions, memories, images, and ideas — what "female" means to men and to women,
memories of murdered babies, fears that dowries will push them deeper into poverty, and
on and on.
As the audience focusses on the embodied symbol, the range of meanings it
carries comes into play and becomes, in a sense, part of the performance. By "meanings" I
do not mean primarily cognitive meanings, but even more importantly the emotions
evoked by the symbols. Symbols have emotional weight or tone. As the theologian and
liturgist Urban T. Holmes puts it, symbols "always engage us first as feeling." 44
For Dulles, the relationship of a symbol to its meanings defines what a symbol is:
"a sign pregnant with a plenitude of meaning which is evoked rather than explicitly
stated." 45 As Dulles' definition implies, symbols are essentially multivalent, carrying an
indefinite range of meanings, all of which are "true" or "appropriate." Holmes aptly
remarks that each symbol "represents a 'fan' of denotations and connotations . . . ." 46
The other face of multivalency is ambiguity. Symbols are never able to be fully
^Urban T. Holmes, "Liminality and Liturgy," Worship 47 (Aug.-Sept 1973), 390.
45 Dulles, 132.
46 Holmes, 390.
pinned down and for this reason are obscure, mysterious, alluring, and dangerous. The
most profound symbols are a bit like Alice in Wonderland's rabbit hole — it seems that
one can fall down into their depths forever. The Indian artist and theologian Jyoti Sahi
powerfully expresses this double aspect of multivalency and ambiguity when he writes,
"The symbol has the power to create in the mind a sense of wonder. This term 'wonder'
has two aspects. On the one hand, it is a questioning: 'I wonder what this means?' On the
other hand, it is awe and reverence. The very questionableness of life is evoked by the
symbol." 47 The Newborn plays on this ambiguity most profoundly with the symbol of the
baby — it seems to evoke in the audience a range of complicated and contradictory
emotions among which are anticipation, joy, protectiveness, anxiety, anger, and a host of
nameless others shades of feelings — all coexisting and all called forth by the power of the
Their physicality, emotional weight, multivalency, and ambiguity provide the
conditions for another characteristic of symbols — they act upon us and lure us into them.
As Dulles describes it: "We attend to [the symbols], and if we surrender to their power
they carry us away ... to enter the world of meaning opened up by the symbol we must
give ourselves; we must be not detached observers but engaged participants." 48 In The
Newborn, the members of the audience are lured into the symbols of mother and baby,
47 Sahi, Child, 89.
48 Ibid., 133-4.
man and woman, mother and father, and then, once they have become "engaged
participants" in Dulles' sense, the play pushes them farther into engagement by
challenging them to grapple directly with the issue of female infanticide. The multivalent,
ambiguous, emotionally powerful symbols propel them into argument, opening them to
confront one another with the question, "what are we doing?"
In this section we have examined three ways in which the communication which
goes on in performance between and among performers and audience is nondiscursive.
We first looked at how the multilayering of a new and different space and time on
ordinary space and time forms the communication event, conjoining "what is not" with
"what is" in a space-time field teeming with meanings and possibilities. Then we saw
how both performers and audience are carried through the performance by a dynamic
unity, the through-line, which is played out in time and apprehended primarily by the
body and the heart. And finally, we observed how symbols evoke an indefinite
multiplicity of emotional, imagistic, and cognitive meanings, and in doing so draw us out
of observation into participation. All of these work together in a performance to create an
event in which a profound communication occurs which cannot be fully expressed in
concepts or propositions, but which can transform the participants at levels below and
beyond the cognitive.
How are Performances Effective?
In the simplest, most naive sense, we can say that a performance is effective if it
produces a change. Defined so broadly, however, the concept of effectiveness is useless,
since insofar as performance occurs at all, some changes must take place in the physical
space where it happens and in the performers and observers. The performers exert an
effort and the observers are moved to pleasure, or boredom, or dislike. How then can we
tighten the notion of efficacy so that it will help us understand how performances can
make significant changes in their participants?
Richard Schechner has identified an "efficacy-entertainment braid" which twines
through all performances ranging from what he calls "aesthetic theatre" — performances
which are intended purely for entertainment — to ritual, which is, by its nature, effective.
For Schechner, performances can be characterized on the basis of the relative weight of
efficacy and entertainment. In morality plays, church services, court ceremonies, psycho-
drama, and radical performance, the efficacy strand is predominant, in contrast to popular
entertainments, bards and minstrels, circuses, fairs, and commercial theatre. 56
Schechner speaks of entertainment-efficacy as entwined in a "braid" rather than
separated as poles, because "ritual [the paradigm for Schechner of efficacious
performance] and entertainment have always coexisted comfortably." 57 But how does
Schechner draw the distinction between entertainment and efficacy, if some feelings of
56 Schechner, Performative Circumstances, 149.
pleasure, joy, boredom, anger, etc. are inevitable "effects" of performance? For
Schechner, the efficacy of a performance which is distinct from entertainment lies in a
congruence between the content of the performance and the sort of change it produces; in
Schechner's words, "The performance effects what it celebrates." 58
Schechner is here identifying two important elements in the notion of the efficacy
of performances: a. an efficacious performance produces more than an emotional change
in the observers, and b. the change is related in some way to the content of the
performance. By the content, I mean not only specific narratives, characters, and symbols
that are enacted and invoked, but also the nature of the performance space, the rhythm
and pacing, and the relationships among performers and between performers and
observers. In the language developed in the last section of this paper, a performance is
efficacious to the extent that it produces transformations in the participants and these
transformations are in directions delimited by the space-time of the performance, the
through-line and the symbolic content. 59
In the Dalit village performance described above, for example, I believe it is fair
to say that the performers were transformed by embodying the characters of the
landowner, the foreman, and the Dalits who acted in solidarity with the couple being
58 Ibid., 136.
59 It is important to note that nothing in the notion of effective performance implies that
the resulting transformations are necessarily emancipatory or "good" in any other sense.
"Effective" performance is a morally neutral concept.
threatened with the loss of their land. And at the same time, members of the audience
were transformed by their encounter with the possibility made real in performance, the
"not-yet," of cooperative action. 60 It is important to note that in order for it to be effective
the transformations produced by a performance need not be (and probably will not be)
massive. An actress in The Newborn remarked about the play that "if we can shake their
beliefs, that is enough. It is like making ripples on the water." 61
In Indian street theatre and other radical performances, it is possible to identify
three kinds of efficacy: revelatory, constitutive, and operational. I will briefly discuss
each of these.
In this kind of efficacy the participants in the performance encounter an
alternative mode of being or acting which is superior to current, everyday modes of being
or acting. This encounter leads to an experience of tension between what is and what
could be. For example, in another play performed by the REDS troupe in Dalit villages,
the performers enact a situation in which field workers accost a landlord and demand a
60 The significance of this kind of transformation in the Dalit community cannot be
overdrawn. In a report analyzing the impact of the REDS organization (see above, 6)
during the period from 1984 to 1994, it is pointed out that when REDS began "the
predominant base level position was one of fatalism. The conditions of exploitation
related to Dalits were perceived as God's will." Mohanraj, A Decade with People
(Tumkur: REDS, 1995), 35.
Mungai, The Newborn, video.
fair wage from the him, an act which is dangerous because of the marginal economic
situations of agricultural workers resulting in their need to have continuous work, the
difficulty of accessing legal help, and the overwhelming power of the landlords in rural
This performance exemplifies revelatory efficacy on several levels. First, the
audience is able to see actions and hear words which embodies an alternative way of
responding to landlords' oppression. Second, the fact that the performers are themselves
Dalits acting the roles both of landlord and field workers is itself a "revelation" that these
sorts of actions can be done by people like themselves.
In terms of the discussion of performance earlier in this chapter, it is evident that
the power for change of a performance with revelatory efficacy is made possible because
of the ontological complexity of performance. I have argued that a performance event
determines a new spatio-temporal reality and embodies new relationships and ways of
acting, and that in performance these coexist with the ordinary, everyday space and time,
relationships, and ways of acting. In this coexistence, a new, composite reality is formed.
Given this, I would argue that the power for change comes from the fact that the
alternatives, held in tension with the ordinary within the ontological complexity of the
performance, are really present to both performers and observers for the duration of the
performance. They are existentially encountered in the present. The tension lying in the
discrepancy between what is and what-is-not-yet evokes emotions of longing and hope
for change and a deeper antipathy to the present reality which has now been seen to be
Indian street theatre performances and other radical performances may also have
constitutive efficacy. By this I mean that performances may change the way the audience
feels, thinks, and speaks about itself — the way it identifies itself. The Dalit village
performances I described above is a clear example. They were framed from the point of
view of the Dalits as an oppressed social group with a common heritage and common
struggles. The performances shifted identity from individual families, sub-groups, or
villages to a pan-national group of people united by being Dalits. In doing so, they
strengthened the polarization of Dalits over against caste people, government officials,
and others in power. Insofar, then, as a performance is constitutively effective with
respect to identity, the audience will leave the performance with a more defined sense of
who they are as members of a boundaried social group, and correlative with that, a more
sharply delineated sense of who is "other," "not-us"of actions and relationships and these
new understandings may then come to be applied to actions and relationships in the world
outside the performance.
Operational efficacy leads the audience members to make changes in the world
outside the performance. Indian street theatre, like other radical performance, is
concerned primarily to impel changes in power relationships and in the understanding of
Power relationships. The definition of radical performance which I am using in this
paper, i.e., performances that confront and re-envision ingrained social arrangements of
power, places issues of power firmly at the center of attention. As radical performance,
Indian street theatre by its very nature seeks to move the observer into an oppositional
relationship to existing power structures. The observer is intended to move from
acceptance or ignorance of those structures to a posture of active opposition or perhaps to
a weaker form of non-participation. At any rate, the intent of the performance is at the
very least to disorient and make problematic the audience's relationships to the power
structures that exist, after they leave the performance. To quote again the actress in
Mungai's "Voicing Silence" troupe, one part of the efficacy of radical performance is to
"make ripples in the water," ripples which keep expanding beyond the duration of the
"Right behavior. " The liturgical theologian Theodore W. Jennings has proposed that
rituals help establish the criteria for what counts as "right behavior" outside the ritual
setting. "The performance of ritual," he says, ". . . teaches one not only how to conduct
the ritual itself, but how to conduct oneself outside the ritual space." 62 But do radical
performances have this kind of operational efficacy? Do they lead to a change in what is
approved of and striven for as "right behavior." Looking once again at the Dalit
62 Theodore W. Jennings, Jr., "On Ritual Knowledge" (Journal of Religion 62 (2): 324-
performance about the field workers and the landlord mentioned above, the act of the
workers in standing up to the landlord and demanding a fair wage does, I think, become a
model of their future actions in actual situations with their landlords. This is not to be
simplistic and say that actions will change — the dangers of losing their jobs or being
punished with violence are very real. Yet through the ontological complexity of the
performance, this kind of response has taken on a reality it may not have had before, and
it may help lead to discerning and then creating conditions which would make that
Another way in which a performance can be effective toward "right action" in the
world lies in what happens to the body of the performer as he/she performs. In the Dalit
performances, the actors who played the landlords or other dominant characters took on
the stance and vocal mannerisms of those sorts of people as seen through the eyes of
those they oppress. More significantly, perhaps, the actors who played those Dalits who
resisted the landlord's injustices also had to find a new way of holding themselves,
moving, and speaking. In doing so, they were "rehearsing liberation." Michael Ross and
Mamunur Rashid, who have been active in radical theatre movements in Asia and Africa
have observed that in the "experience of participation, interaction, and self-
expression.... the people overcome their fears and develop a sense of their own identity,
self-confidence, and class-consciousness (thus showing that people can 'act,' can change
things both on stage and in real life).
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In this section, we have looked at the notion of "efficacious performance." We
have seen that a performance is efficacious to the extent that it produces transformations
in the participants in directions delimited by the space-time of the performance, the
through-line and the symbolic content. We have identified three major kinds of ways in
which performances are effective — revelatory efficacy, in which the audience encounters
embodied alternatives to existing social structures; constitutive efficacy, in which
participants in the performance come to a new sense of identity; and operational efficacy,
in which people are moved to transform power structures and redefine what it means to
act rightly in the world outside the performance event. In these ways Indian street theatre
and other radical performances transform performers and members of the audience and
move them towards transformation of the world beyond the performance. But what is the
goal of this transformative work? In the final section of this chapter I will attempt to
define in what sense an effective performance may be identified as emancipatory.
Jan Cohen-Cruz points out that radical performances, defined as performances
which "question or re-envision ingrained social arrangements of power," must include
63 Ross Kidd and Mamunur Rashid, 62.
Third Reich rallies and Ku Klux Klan marches. 64 These performance events possess
revelatory efficacy in that they enact a spectacle of white power to observers. They are
constitutively effective in forming an identity over against others, in challenging existing
power structures, and in forming the bodies of the participants in stances of challenge,
dominance, and hostility. Further, those performing them may well describe what they are
doing using the language of emancipation. A young while male spectator of a Ku Klux
Klan rally might say something like: "We whites have got to take what's rightly ours."
Much of the rhetoric in rallies of the Third Reich promised "emancipation" for Aryans
from the power and control of Jews and others. The originators and supporters of Third
Reich and Ku Klux Klan performances, then, could very well use the language of
emancipation and to advocate freedom from invidious (to them) power structures. Is there
a definition of "emancipatory performance" which will exclude such performances while
including the Indian street theatre performances we have been considering?
I want to suggest that "emancipatory performances" may be defined as
performances which lead to deeper and fuller humanity for some, without compromising
the essential humanity of others. This definition derives from the work of Paolo Freire
who speaks of "humanization" as "man's vocation . . . thwarted by injustice, exploitation,
oppression, and the violence of the oppressors; . . . affirmed by the yearning of the
oppressed for freedom and justice, and by their struggle to recover their lost humanity." 65
A similar account of the meaning of emancipation/liberation is found in the work of some
Christian liberation theologians, especially those from Asia who are working in a
predominately nonChristian context. The Taiwanese theologian C.S. Song, for example,
has given a description of the task which he understands as the missio Dei, a divine call
not only to Christians but to all people concerned with justice and right relationship, in
terms of fully humanity: "What is at stake is the question of how human beings can
remain human. It is also a question of how their frightened, tired and withered bodies,
minds and hearts can rise from resignation to determination, from despair to hope, and
from death to life . . . ." 66 The goal, continues Song, is "a human community in which the
forces of love, justice and peace may prevail over the powers of hate, oppression and
inhumanity." 67 The Indian Jesuit theologian Samuel Kappen defines the kingdom of God
as "on the one hand, the liberation of man from every alienation, i.e., from everything that
renders him other than what he ought to be, and on the other, the full flowering of the
human on our planet. In other words, it is not only freedom from, but also freedom
for — freedom for creativity, community, and love." 68
65 Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (New York: Continuum, 1986), 28.
66 C.S. Song, "An Asian View of Mission" in Christian Mission, Jewish Mission, ed.
Martin A. Cohen and Helga Croner (New York: Paulist Press, 1982), 185.
67 Ibid., 185.
68 Sebastian Kappen, Jesus and Freedom (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1977), 56.
The second part of the definition of 'emancipatory' offered above — "without
compromising the essential humanity of others" — is crucial to exclude the instances of
the paradigmatic non -emancipatory performances cited above — of the Ku Klux Klan and
the Third Reich. Freire makes this point as well: "In order for this struggle to have
meaning, the oppressed must not, in seeking to regain their humanity . . . , become in turn
oppressors of the oppressors, but rather restorers of the humanity of both." 69
What, though, is meant by the idea of "humanity" and "humanization"? It will be
assumed here that it ranges over all of the conditions of human life, including a. basic
survival needs — food, safe water, shelter, land, freedom from violence; b. a sense of
identity both as belonging to a community and as an individual; c. knowledge of what is
real, including knowledge of social conditions and prevailing power dynamics; d. a sense
of agency, of being empowered to act and make changes in the world, and e. a relationship
with a transcendent presence or ideal which is beyond the here-and-now, not "owned" by
the present moment. Different radical performances may emphasize one or another of
these levels of being human. The Dalit performances we have been looking at explicitly
include the first two and the fourth, the sense of agency (although in a sense they at least
imply the third and sixth).
A final point must be made. Every emancipatory performance is emancipatory for
some people from some state of affairs which has been in some way disempowering and
69 Freire, 28.
dehumanizing for them. Expressed in this way, it may appear that an emancipatory
performance may only be for the oppressed members of a given society from their
oppression by a dominant group. In the example of the Dalit performances, the intent was
to enable the observers: first, to begin to understand how their specific conditions result
from interwoven religious, class, and economic structures; second, to identify themselves
explicitly as Dalits with pride and a sense of unity, and third, to envision ways of
meliorating their situation.
On the other hand, some emancipatory performances are primarily directed to
members of dominant groups who are dehumanized by failing to acknowledge their
interrelationships with others. A good example of this occurred in a radical performance
in Belgrade in April, 1993, the first anniversary of the beginning of the war in Bosnia.
Demonstrators gathered on the main street in Belgrade. Covering themselves with a piece
of black fabric which spanned the entire length of the street, they become a living "ribbon
of mourning." 70 This performance was directed primarily to the dominant group of
Serbian politicians and the citizens who supported the war. The intent was to witness to
the fact of death in Bosnia and to manifest resistance — to force the fact of dying soldiers
and civilians upon those who chose not to see and to bring awareness of the consequences
of the war to those who glorified it. This was an example of emancipatory performance
addressed to the dominant in an attempt to deepen their humanity by confronting them
70 Knezevic, "Women in Black," Radical Street Performance, 58-9.
with knowledge which they would want to resist and evoking an emotional response of
sorrow and anger through the manipulation of the a traditional symbol of mourning, the
black ribbon. The performance confronted observers who were active or at least complicit
by their silence to a fuller humanity in the sense of increased cognitive and emotional
awareness of a present reality.
This discussion of "emancipatory performance" has led to the following
conclusions: First, the nature of the transformation achieved through an emancipatory
performance is to deepen or enrich the humanity of the participants without
compromising the essential humanity of others. Second, the "humanization" which results
ranges over the whole span of human faculties and needs, from material to spiritual. And
third, an emancipatory performance may achieve its effect for members of both
subordinate and dominant groups.
In this chapter, we have looked extensively at performance and radical
performance as exemplified by Indian street theatre. We have defined ways in which a
performance can be efficacious and suggested an understanding of what it means for an
effective performance to be emancipatory. It is the primary thesis of this chapter that the
capacity of performance to be effective and emancipatory arises out of the very nature of
First, performance is an embodied, processual event in which communication
takes place below and beyond the cognitive level through the "warping" of space and
time, the dynamic unity or through-line, and the use of symbols. The physicality of
performance and its capacity for nondiscursive communication allow it to be effective. It
is face-to-face, body-to-body communication and it is because of these powerful qualities
of immediacy and presence — of touch, movement, interaction; of being drawn into the
symbols, carried by the flow, present in the rich warping of space and time — that
transformations of emotions, beliefs, bodies, relationships may occur.
Second, performance creates a situation of ontological complexity, a kind of
reality in which the ordinary space and time world within which the performance is
played coexists with a different world, a not-here and not-now which yet is here and now.
This has two crucial implications for the capacity of performance to be effective and
emancipatory. First, the world created or invoked by the performance actually embodies
alternatives to the factual world. It exists — it can be felt, looked at, heard, entered into
physically or empathetically. In performances, alternative realities come to life. 71
Second, the ontological complexity of performance provides the conditions for
looseness, slippage, risk, imbalance relative to what is accepted as given in ordinary,
unexamined existence. To shift the images a bit, Turner's analysis of liminality involves
the notion of "anti-structure," of breaking down the normal structures of life. He describes
the liminal state in a variety of metaphors: threshold, corridor, tunnel, pilgrim's road, all
7l It should be made clear that these enacted alternatives do not have to have either full-
fledged plots or pose clear-cut options. Even the suggestion of an alternative becomes
integrated into this new reality.
of which express the sense of going away from the normal, crossing over, leaving
behind. 72 Because they create conditions under which participants (including observers)
can slip out of or turn away from the accepted conditions of life, performances can effect
Indian street theatre, using these intrinsic characteristics of performance, aims at
transformation in the direction of emancipation. It opposes prevailing social structures
while embodying an alternative which opens a fuller human life; it is powerfully driven
by anger and yearning, suffering and hope, memory and vision. In addition, it goes where
the people are. It is performed/or and sometimes by the people (the janam, the masses,
the oppressed), most usually in the places where suffering and oppression go on, although
sometimes in the sites of power. Street theatre is a pilgrim theatre, always on the road,
travelling wherever the power of performance can be used for emancipation.
72 Victor Turner, "Variations," 37.
EUCHARISTIC RITUAL AS EMANCIPATORY RITUAL PERFORMANCE
The ritual of Eucharist lies at the heart of Christian liturgical practice. This is
certainly so for the Episcopal Church. According to the Episcopal Outline of Faith, or
Catechism, it is one of the "two great sacraments given by Christ to his Church" 73 And
since the issuing of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, the Eucharist has been considered
"the principle act of Christian worship on the Lord's Day and other major Feasts" (BCP,
™The Book of Common Prayer (New York: The Seabury Press, 1979), 858. All further
references will be cited in the text.
The Eucharistic ritual is presumed to be effective, to cause transformation in its
participants. In Article XXV of the Anglican Articles of Religion, this is made quite
clear: "Sacraments . . .[are] certain sure witnesses, and effectual signs of grace, and God's
good will towards us, by the which he doth work invisibly in us, and doth not only
quicken, but also strengthen and confirm our Faith in him" (BCP, 872). The 1979
Catechism spells out the fruits of God's work, the "benefits" of the Eucharist, as "the
forgiveness of our sins, the strengthening of our union with Christ and one another, and
the foretaste of the heavenly banquet which is our nourishment in eternal life" (BCP,
It is not my concern here to deal with the theological questions underlying these
assertions about the efficacy of the Eucharistic ritual. My concern is with sacramental
rituals as performances, as communication events involving God and the worshipping
community. I want to question to what extent the way in which the ritual is performed
effectively communicates God's salvific action to the community gathered in worship. I
believe that God's action may be mediated and communicated more or less effectively by
different ways of performing the Eucharist.
In addressing these questions, I want to hold up Indian street theatre as a paradigm
of effective performance which aims towards emancipation. I hope that doing so may
provide a fresh, even a "radical" vision, of how Eucharistic ritual can mediate and
communicate the transformation of the participants and their relationships to each other
and to the world outside the ritual.
Ritual as Performance
In understanding ritual to be a kind of performance, I am following the lead of
anthropologist Victor Turner and others who have contributed to a remarkable body of
work in ritual studies since the middle of this century. We will be looking in this section
at the characteristics rituals share with all performances, as well as the ways they
constitute a distinctive group of performances. In structuring this discussion I will be
following more or less the order in which I explicated the notion of performance in
1 . Ritual is a complex, embodied action in space and time. Turner describes ritual as
"essentially performance, enactment," 14 which involves, "at least in simpler societies . . .
an orchestration of symbolic actions and objects in all the sensory codes — visual,
auditory, kinesthetic, olfactory, gustatory — full of music and dancing and with interludes
of play and entertainment." 75 This rich intermingling of bodies, movements, space,
colors, pace and rhythm is, as we saw in Chapter 1, one mark of performance in general. 76
2. Ritual, like all other performances, is a communication event, although the ways that
this "plays out" differ from other kinds of performance in certain respects.
a. In many kinds of performance, like Indian street theatre, some of the
74 Turner, From Ritual to Theatre, 79.
76 See above, 14.
participants in the performance event are performers while others are audience.
Communication goes on between and among them, but their roles in the performance
situation are distinct. In ritual, on the other hand, the performer-audience relationship is
either absent or minimal; rather, all are participants. Turner describes ritual as having a
"congregation" with leaders and non-leaders, who "all share formally and substantively
the same set of beliefs and accept the same system of practices, the same sets of rituals or
liturgical actions." 77 In addition, the participants in a ritual carry out their roles
deliberately, not in pure S spontaneous behavior but "self-consciously 'acted' like a part in
a play." 78
It is important to make the additional point that in religious rituals the
divine — God or the gods — is treated as a participant. Christopher Irvine puts this
explicitly in the language of performance when he says about the Eucharist, "God is the
principle, albeit hidden actor in the ritual performance." 79
b. Ritual, like other performances, occurs within a particular system of symbols,
meanings, and conventions, shared by the participants. For Turner, ritual is "prescribed
formal behavior," 80 assuming and expressing a system of symbols and conventions, and
77 Turner, From Ritual to Theatre, 109.
78 Sally F. Moore and Barbara Myerhoff, "Secular Ritual: Forms and Meanings" in Secular
Ritual, 1 .
79 Christopher Irvine, "Celebrating the Eucharist: A Rite Performance," Theology 97 (July-
Aug. 1994) : 263.
performed self-consciously (i.e., according to rules or rubrics). David I. Kertzer, who
extends the notion of ritual beyond explicitly religious situations into the secular realm,
defines ritual as "symbolic behavior that is socially standardized and repetitive." 81 In
ritual, participants are caught up in the ritual action through their participation in the "web
of symbolism" 82 which surrounds it. It is also a web of communication in which
can be changed: "ritual works through the senses to structure our sense of reality and our
understanding of the world around us." 83
With respect to conventions, meanings, and symbols, however, rituals differ from
other performances in the degree of gravity or weight they carry within a particular social
world. It is important to participate in the rituals and to participate "properly," i.e., be the
people warranted to perform the ritual or its parts, do the right actions and say the right
words in the right order, wear the proper garments, etc. Turner notes that the stakes are
often high for those in the society who choose not to participate — unlike most
performances, in which non-attendance is merely a simple act of preferring some other
activity, "in ritual, stay-away means rejecting the congregation — or being rejected by it, as
8 'David I. Kertzer, Ritual, Politics, and Power (New Haven: Yale University Press,
83 Ibid., 10.
in excommunication, ostracism, or exile." 84
There are various ways of understanding the social weight of ritual. Some
theorists understand it noetically, in terms of knowledge or belief. Kertzer, for example,
asserts that "Through ritual, beliefs about the universe come to be acquired, reinforced,
and eventually changed." 85 For Emile Durkheim, a founder of ritual studies, what is
important about rituals is "that they provide a powerful way in which people's social
dependence can be expressed." 86
c. As performances, rituals are often repeated over and over at appointed times and
places, and include repetitive words and gestures. These two characteristics of ritual
performances are, I suspect, related to the weight, the solemnity, they bear in society.
Theorists vary in the stress they put on repetitiveness in either sense as essential to ritual.
The Eastern European social theorist Zdzislaw Mach expresses perhaps the most extreme
rigorist view of intra-ritual repetitiveness: a ritual has a rigid formal structure which
"organizes the symbolic action into a pattern where every development of events is
predetermined. Ideally, ritual as repetitive action should be repeated in exactly the same
form." 87 On the opposite extreme are contemporary "one-shot" rituals created for specific
84 Ibid., 112.
85 Kertzer, 9.
86 Cited in ibid.
87 Zdzislaw Mach, Symbols, Conflict, and Identity (Albany: State University of New York
Press, 1993), 73.
occasions, especially from counter-cultural or semi-therapeutic perspectives. 88 1 believe
that "ritual" can properly be applied across the range of repetition-spontaneity, if
performances have such weight that they are identified by the participants as rituals. I also
agree with Turner that because ritual is essentially performance enacted by individuals in
space and time, novelty can crop up even in tightly ruled and repetitive rituals: "...the
rules may 'frame' the performance, but the 'flow' of action and interaction within that
frame may conduce to hitherto unprecedented insights and even generate new symbols
and meanings, which may be incorporated into subsequent performances." 89
In this section, we have looked at rituals as performances. We have noted that like
other performances they are processual enactments in space and time, they are enveloped
and shot through with symbol and convention, and they involve self-conscious
participants. We have also seen that rituals are distinctive from other performances in a
number of factors — a. there is no performer-audience distinction; rather, all are
participants although there may be a division into leaders and non-leaders; b. rituals are
accorded particular "weight" or seriousness within a social group; and c. they are usually
repeated and repetitive in form or content or both. Eucharistic rituals, our particular focus
1 There are a number of guidebooks to the creation of such rituals, e.g.. There are a
number of guidebooks to the creation of such rituals, e.g.. Renee Beck and Sydney
Barbara Metrick, The Art of Ritual: A Guide to Creating and Performing Your Own
Rituals for Growth and Change (Berkeley: Celestial Arts, 1990).
89 Turner, From Ritual, 79.
in this chapter, certainly manifests these features of ritual performance. However, before
moving on to a close study of one particular Eucharistic ritual — Rite II from the 1979
Book of Common Prayer, I want to compare ritual with other performances with respect
to the ways it communicates nondiscursively, how it manifests ontological complexity,
and in what ways it is efficacious.
Ritual Performances as Nondiscursive Communication
In Chapter 1 , we explored performance as a kind of communication which takes
place below and beyond discourse and argument. We saw that in a performance event,
participants become located in a multilayered or "warped" space and time created by the
performance; they are carried along by a through-line; and they are drawn into a
participatory encounter with symbols. How do these essential aspects of performance
manifest themselves in ritual?
Ritual Space and Time
In religious ritual, for example, the performance space is sacred space. It is in
some sense "holy," set apart from quotidian space at least for the duration of the ritual:
"An enclosure is identified physically or conceptually for the time and duration of the
event .... Terrestrial space is transformed to 'celestial space' and the 'microcosm'
'macrocosm.'" 90 There may be specific reasons for identifying a particular space as sacred.
It may, for example, be associated in cultural memory with a holy person or event. Or the
place itself may be felt by people in a particular culture to possess a numinous quality.
The Indian theorist Baidyanath Saraswati has noted that in some cultures the whole earth
may be sacred, but often "some places are more sacred — effective — than others, and
hence fit for ritual performance." 91 Or, alternatively, a neutral space is chosen and
rendered sacred by a ritualistic action like sacrifice. 92 And of course ritual may be
performed in a permanent location, a temple, mosque, church, or synagogue, in which the
space is permanently formed by architecture and by the placement of ritual objects.
Ritual time is complex time, in which the flow of present time is interwoven with
other kinds of durations. A clear example is the Christian liturgical year, in which the
story of Christ's birth, life, death, unfolds itself over the course of the calendar year. One
"layer" of performance time in the Eucharistic liturgy is the playing out of this sequence,
bringing it into actuality through the Gospel readings. The ongoing (in memory as evoked
by the readings) life of Jesus becomes a temporal counterpoint to both the repetitive
actions of the liturgy and the particular lives of the worshippers. Within the ritual, also,
^Kapil Vatsyayan, "Performance: The Process, Manifestation, and Experience," in
Concepts of Space Ancient and Modern ed. Kapila Vatsyayan (New Delhi: Abhinav
Publications, 1991), 381.
91 Baidyanath Saraswati, "Ritual Space (Tribal-Nontribal Context)," in Concepts of Space,
92 Ibid., 360.
memories of pivotal occurrences are invoked to add meanings and emotions evoked by
them to the present event. In the Baptismal ritual, for example, the celebrant offers a
prayer of thanksgiving for the gift of water: "Over it the Holy Spirit moved in the
beginning of creation. Through it you led the children of Israel out of their bondage in
Egypt into the land of promise. In it your Son Jesus received the baptism of John and was
anointed by the Holy Spirit as the Messiah ..." (BCP, 306).
Ritual space-time, then, like the space-time of other performances, is internal and
external, physical and teeming with emotions, meanings, memories. It is akahsah, the
place and time in which things come to be and are revealed. 93 In analyzing and evaluating
a ritual, it is crucial to look closely at how it forms space and time as well as the content
of what comes to be revealed.
When we looked at the through-line of The Newborn, we saw how difficult it is to
conceptualize the through-line even of a performance based more or less directly on a on
a plot or narrative. Rituals tend to have more obscure through-lines which do not get their
primary coherence from a narrative. The through-line may be felt as a dynamic whole, but
may be difficult to express in words at all. Different participants or observers, from
within the same culture or even the same worshipping community, may give different
accounts of the nature of the underlying "internal logic" or flow of the performance. Yet
93 See above, 30.
there is a felt coherence experienced by both performers and observers. The dynamic
could be expressed metaphorically as like stepping into a stream and letting the water
take them. The water flows more slowly in some parts, more quickly in others, there are
eddies and there are white water rapids. The participants are carried along by a dynamic
to which they assent and yield by entering the ritual space and time.
However, in the absence of a unifying plot, it is possible for rituals to have less
than adequate through-lines. For example, the different "scenes" of the rituals may feel
disconnected and discrete, as if they were simply placed together one after another
without a unifying dynamic. We will find that the coherence of the through-line can
function as a critical principle for evaluating performances, especially ritual
Symbols in Ritual Performance
Rituals make use of symbols which have particular depth within a culture. This
close relationship between ritual and deep symbolic content is related to the social weight
borne by ritual. 94 Moreover, the symbols which lie at the heart of a religious ritual — the
94 Interestingly, even newly minted rituals attempt to embody deep symbolic content
which both signifies and helps establish the weight of the performance. In Beck and Metrick's
ritual workbook, for example, Guideline #2 says, "Let the myth inspire you .... A ritual
admits you to sacred time and space, into the archetypal realm of myth and mystery. You
might choose to research myths and fairy tales with the same theme as the ritual you are
planning, or explore how other cultures have realized intentions similar to yours
Beck and Metrick, 88.
water of Baptism, the lighting of the new fire at the Easter Vigil — are considered to have
a privileged relationship to the divine. The Russian Orthodox theologian Alexander
Schmemann expresses this view when he says that in a religious symbol the empirical
and the spiritual are united "epiphanically": "one reality manifests ( 7ri(pavoo) and
communicates the other but — and this is immensely important — only to the degree to
which the symbol itself is a participant in the spiritual reality and is able or called upon to
manifest it." 95
In our discussion of the symbolic aspect of performance, we spoke about symbols
in performances as physically realized, multivalent, ambiguous, and having the power to
lure us or, in Avery Dulles' words, to "carry us away." 96 The assumption of a connection
of ritual symbols with the divine or the spiritual means that in being "carried away," the
ritual participant is being drawn into the realm of the divine. Understanding the symbols
used in ritual as epiphanic, in some way opening a way into the divine, marks a
distinguishing characteristic of ritual over against other kinds of performances, including
street theatre. In the creation of the latter, symbols are "thrown together," woven together
in a dynamic unity in order to effect transformation towards emancipation. The symbols
95 Alexander Schmemann, The Eucharist: Sacrament of the Kingdom. (Crestwood, NY:
St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1988), 39.
96 See above, 36.
are chosen for pragmatic reasons (and possibly for aesthetic reasons as well). We have
looked, for example, at Mungai's play on female infanticide. The playwright and director
Pralayan also produced a play on female infanticide, whose climactic symbolic gesture
was a faithful daughter lighting her father's funeral pyre. 97 Each playwright approached
the same issue with the same basic intent, and chose quite different symbolic material. In
contrast, in ritual performances at least the primary symbols are given by the foundational
religious stories or beliefs in a culture. Bread and wine, for example, are at the heart of
the Eucharistic ritual — in a sense, particular ritual enactments of the Eucharist are
constructed around them.
Symbols, since they are crucial to the way ritual performances communicate to the
participants, provide a third lens (with ritual space-time and the through-line) through
which to examine rituals critically. It is possible to evaluate a ritual's communicative
power by determining what symbols are present and how they are being used.
In this section we have considered ritual performance as nondiscursive
communication, experienced by the ritual's participants in the layering of sacred space
and time on ordinary space and time, the dynamic unity of the through-line, and the
ephiphanic character of ritual symbols. We have also come to see that ritual space and
time, the through-line, and symbolic content can act as tools for critical reflection on
97 Pralayan, interview by author, Chennai (Madras), India, 18 July 1998.
particular rituals, and I will use them as such in my discussion of Eucharistic rituals in the
final sections of this paper.
Ritual Performance and Ontological Complexity
The discussion of the symbolic dimension of ritual performance hints at the way
that the ontological complexity of rituals differs from that of other performances. In
Chapter 1, 1 argued that a new, integral reality comes into being with the layering of
dramatic space and time upon daily space and time, of assumed character upon ordinary
identity, and of new patterns of relationship upon normal patterns, and that in this new
reality lies much of the capacity of performance to effect change. 98
In ritual performance, the "dramatic" space and time, characters, and patterns of
relationship are apprehended by participants in the ritual as having an independent
existence outside their manifestation in the ritual. I use the word 'manifestation'
deliberately — what comes to coexist with ordinary space and time, identity, and
relationship in a ritual already is, in fact usually is conceived to be in a highly valuative
sense. For some reason this other reality is not always evident, but comes to be revealed
in the complex whole of the performance.
As an example let us look briefly at the Christian rite of Baptism. Here is a
dramatic space and time in which "Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness" (BCP,
302) are active and the baptismal candidates reject them and turn from them to Jesus
98 See above, 24-26.
Christ, promising "to follow and obey him as your Lord" (BCP, 303). With the baptism
their sins are forgiven by God and they are "raise[d] to a new life of grace" and "marked
as Christ's own forever" (BCP 308). These are cosmic events — and yet they occur on a
normal Sunday mornings, in the local church. And the newly baptized themselves are
both their quotidian, structured selves — Robert, a red-faced six-month old, Jane who
clerks in the Walmart — and new members of the "household of God" (BCP, 308). The
other participants are friends, relatives, strangers — and sharers "in [God's] eternal
priesthood" (ibid.), who have committed themselves to a covenantal relationship with
God which involves certain ways of behaving as affirmed in the Baptismal Covenant.
The point I want to make here is that in the ontological complexity of the
Baptismal ritual for Christians the dramatic reality which coexists with daily reality for
the duration of the ritual is believed to exist independently beyond the performance. This
is true of ritual in general, and it can intensify the disorientation which is one aspect of
the liminality experience in ritual performance. Earlier I spoke of the power of the
ontological complexity of performance to render contingent and question or challenge
situations and structures which have been taken for granted in the daily world. Urban
Holmes describes this state of "anti-structure" in this way: "In a liminal existence, those
things in the structures that define life have been left behind. By this I mean anything
from job descriptions, signs of rank, or bureaucratic or organizational charts, to formal,
operational logic, rubrics, and canon law." 99
In ritual, the belief in the independent, ongoing existence of the dramatic reality,
has two consequences. First, this reality provides a kind of guarantee for the actions,
commitments, and ways of life undertaken by participants within the ritual and beyond. In
the language of the Baptismal ritual this is conveyed by a shift in grammatical mood from
the subjunctive and imperative: ". . . sanctify this water, we pray you, by the power of
your Holy Spirit, that those who here are cleansed from sin . . . may continue forever in
the risen life of Jesus Christ ..." (BCP, 307), to the indicative : ". . . we thank you . . .
that you have bestowed upon these your servants the forgiveness of sin, and have raised
them to the new life of grace" (BCP, 308). What has been performed in the ritual has
been (really) done by the power of the divine.
Second, the assumption of the independent reality which is manifested in a ritual
(as well as social weight of ritual) can contribute towards rituals functioning as
conservative forces in society. Zdzislaw Mach believes that the symbolic structure in a
ritual "confines and maintains social order by creating a model for reality," a model "not
only seen and heard, but [which] acts it out, makes the image of it and thus they can live
out the order which ritual postulates." 100 The freedom of creative theatre activists like
Mungai and Pralayan to pose alternatives and explore new possibilities is not shared, at
100 Mach, 8.
least not to the same extent, by those who work with religious rituals.
The Efficacy of Ritual Petformances
In the discussion in Chapter 1, we adopted Richard Schechner's definition of the
efficacy of performance as the "congruence between the content of the performance and
the sort of change it produces." 101 We identified in Indian street theatre and other radical
performances three modes of efficacy — revelatory, in which the audience encounters
embodied alternatives to existing social structures; constitutive, in which participants in
the performance come to a new sense of their identity, and operational, in which people
are moved to transform power structures and redefine what it means to act rightly in the
world outside the performance event. Rituals are effective in all of these modes.
Ritual and Revelatory Efficacy
In the last section we saw that rituals are considered by the participants in them to
reveal, in a literal sense, a persistent reality independent of quotidian life. Rituals open up
and embody this realm, and in doing so create a situation of anti-structure within which
the "ordinary" can be judged. In the Baptismal ritual the confrontation of the divine
reality with the conditions of daily life is evident in the questions asked of the questions
before baptism, especially: "Do you renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt
and destroy the creatures of God?" and "Do you renounce all sinful desires that draw you
101 Schechner, Performative Circumstances, 136.
from the love of God?" (BCP, 302).
Taking account of Mach's observation about the tendency of ritual to conserve
social values, I want to observe that the revelatory efficacy of a ritual, while always
raising the possibility of judging existing social structures, may not reveal possibilities
that are radically new. The divine paradigm may indeed function conservatively. On the
other hand, I believe that it is possible that in a ritual performance, truly radical
possibilities may be revealed. Drawing again on the example of the baptismal ritual in the
1979 Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, the candidates promise to "seek and serve
Christ in all persons ..." (BCP, 305), a vision of a life of service that clearly goes against
the grain of the structures of domination and exclusion in the society at large.
Ritual and Constitutive Efficacy
Zdzislaw Mach has detailed the intimate link between ritual and the formation of
identity. For Mach, the boundaries of group identity are created through symbolic action,
and especially through ritual: "Boundaries created in the process of building a group's
identity are of a symbolic nature. Historical myth . . ., ritual . . . , art . . .serve both as the
content of an image of self and others, and as a symbolic substance [?] with which
differences are defined and emphasized." 102 Rituals, he goes on to say, "owing to their
symbolic complexity and dynamic character, ... are particularly suitable for expressing
102 Mach, 265.
identity and intergroup relations." 103
Mach points out that ritual serves not only to maintain and reinforce group
identities over time, but also provides a way that new identities can be defined and
established. In both processes, rituals, as well as other symbolic forms, "shape relations
through the emotional and ideological construction of images, polarization of partners in
social conflict, acting out of models of social orders, . . . and making obscure . . .
differences clear and easy to perceive and understand." 104
In the Baptismal ritual we have been looking at as a model, the newly baptized are
"marked as Christ's own for ever," welcomed "into the household of God," and given a
share in "[Christ's] eternal priesthood" (BCP, 308). This is a new group identity into
which they have been initiated through the ritual. They are these people, which implies
that there are those people who are other/different, at the very least the (unbaptized)
people from whose group the new baptized have come. Although this is an initiatory rite
and not repeated for the same individuals, the group identity of "baptized Christian" is
brought into the foreground every time they renew the baptismal covenant, e.g., at the
baptism of others or at the GreatVigil of Easter.
The operational efficacy of rituals, like that of other performances, lies in their
,04 Ibid. 269-70.
ability to make changes in the world outside the performance. I want to point specifically
here, in parallel to the discussion of Indian street theatre in Chapter 1 , to the ways rituals
can impel changes in power relationships and in the way "right behavior" is understood.
The operational efficacy in both cases springs from the fact that in ritual relationships and
behavior are, quite literally, embodied. And the fact that ritual, in contrast to
performances like Indian street theatre in which is a distinct difference between
performers and audience, involves all as participants means that all are (to a greater or
lesser extent) actually embodying relationships and behavior, "acting" them out.
Power relationships. Ritual performances embody differential relationships. In
sacramental liturgies, for example, the priest or presider has actions, speech, and often a
particular location in the ritual space reserved for him/her. Whatever egalitarian theology
of the "priesthood of all believers" may be explicitly espoused, the rituals enact
something quite different, and these differences have to do with power.
Catherine Bell sees the enacting of power relationships as an intrinsic aspect of
what she calls 'ritualization.' "Ritualization," she says, "is a strategic play of power, of
domination and resistance, within the arena of the social body." 105 She explicates this in
terms of embodiment and enacting: "It is in ritual — . . . as the area for prescribed
sequences of repetitive movements of the body that simultaneously constitute the body,
the person, and the macro-and micronetworks of power — that we can see a fundamental
105 Catherine Bell, Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice (New York: Oxford University Press,
strategy of power." 106 Participants in a ritual enact the structure of the ritual in their bodies
(and in their minds and emotions) and in so doing embody their relationships to each
other and to those outside the ritual. But the operational efficacy of rituals with respect to
power relationships does not derive only from "rehearsing" them in the ritual actions.
Ritual, in Mach's words, not only "creates a reality of power [and] acts it out, [but]
provides it with an aura of sacredness and traditional values." 107 But, as he points out,
rituals do not always embody and sanctify status quo power relationships. Rituals can also
be used by subordinate groups to propose and create a new social ordering: "Dissatisfied
groups which contest the social order also use symbolic structures to express their views
and to construct their political world." 108
"Right behavior. " Liturgical theologian Theodore Jennings sees the operational efficacy
of ritual in even broader terms. He believes that the function of ritual is to "pattern all
significant action," 109 and indeed he argues that a criterion for "falsifying" a ritual is "the
extent to which it cannot serve as a paradigm for significant action outside the ritual itself
and [it] is validated to the extent to which it does function in this way." 110 He gives the
Lord's Prayer as an example. On the basis of its use in ritual, it has efficacy outside the
107 Ibid., 83.
108 Mach, 266.
109 Jennings, 329.
rite by constituting a criterion of what all (Christian) prayer should be. 1 " The Baptismal
Covenant represents another way in which extra-ritual actions can be patterned by what
happens within a ritual. The second part of the covenant is a dialogue between the
celebrant and the candidate in which the latter promises to behave in certain ways "with
God's help," to conform to a particular way of life, a mode of "right action" in the world
outside the ritual (BCP, 304-5). 112
I have discussed three ways in which ritual performance may be efficacious:
through mediating an encounter with a persistent divine or spiritual reality which can be a
vision of a new way of being and/or a model on the basis of which the world of ordinary
experience can be judged; through confirming or establishing a group identity delimited
by the ritual, and through ritual-formed actions in the world.
The Rite II Eucharistic Liturgy as Effective Performance
Let us now apply the analysis of effective performance developed above to a
consideration of a specific Eucharistic ritual. I have chosen to focus on the Rite II liturgy
in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, because as the Eucharistic ritual most commonly
112 A promise — "I will, with God's help" — is not a proposition or statement, but a
"performative" utterance, a verbal expression which accomplishes a result — a speech-act.
See J.L. Austin, How to Do Things with Words (Cambridge: Harvard University Press,
used in the denomination, it forms the common experience of Eucharist for most
In our examination of the Rite II Eucharist, we will be asking how well the
liturgical performance functions as a communication event, especially at the deep levels
of communication which touch the bodies and hearts of the participants. We will look at
the multilayering of space and time which gives form to the performance, the through-line
which carries participants through it, and the web of symbols into which the performance
draws the participants. For each of these we will question to what extent they succeed in
making the liturgical performance effective and in what way: revelatory — encountering a
divine reality which re-visions and/or judges the everyday, lived world;
constitutive — confirming or establishing a group identity, or operational — impelling the
ritual's participants outward to do ritual-formed actions in the world.
As a reference point for my discussion of the liturgy, I will use an outline which I
have slightly adapted from one provided by the Episcopal liturgist, Byron D. Stuhlman.
This outline uses the titles for the sections of the liturgy as given in the text of Rite II
itself (BCP, 355-375) and in the "Order for Celebrating the Holy Eucharist" (BCP, 400-
401; these titles are in quotes). 113
THE PROCLAMATION OF THE WORD OF GOD
"The People and Priest Gather in the Lord's Name"
Hymn, Psalm, or Anthem (optional)
113 Byron D. Stuhlman, Eucharistic Celebration 1789-1979 (New York: Church Hymnal
Corporation, 1988), 137-141.
Collect for Purity (optional)
Gloria, song of praise, Kyrie, or Trisagion
"They Proclaim and Respond to the Word of God"
The Word of God
Salutation dialogue and collect
Psalm, hymn, or anthem (optional)
Second lesson (optional)
Psalm, hymn, or anthem (optional)
Gospel with responses before and after
The Nicene Creed (on Sundays and other Major Feasts)
"They Pray for the World and the Church"
The Prayers of the People
The Confession (may be omitted on occasion)
Invitation, Confession, Absolution
"They Exchange the Peace "
THE CELEBRATION OF THE HOLY COMMUNION
"They Prepare the Table"
Sentence of bidding (optional)
Hymn, psalm, or anthem (optional)
Collection of alms
Presentation and Placement of bread, wine, and money or other gifts
"They Make Eucharist" (Give Thanks)
The Great Thanksgiving
Salutation and "Lift up your hearts" dialogue
Continuation with Institution Narrative, Memorial Acclamation, Offering,
and Epiclesis (four alternatives)
"They Break the Bread"
The Breaking of the Bread
Fraction in silence
Pascha Nostrum and/or Agnus Dei or other anthem (optional)
"They Share the Gifts of God"
Hymns, psalms, anthems (optional)
Postcommunion prayer (two alternatives)
Dismissal (four forms) and response
The outline summarizes the text of the Rite II liturgy, but of course, as a ritual, the
text in the Book of Common Prayer is not meant to be read, but to be performed, to
become embodied action in space and time. We have seen that rituals, like other
performances, are effective insofar as they communicate to the bodies and hearts of
participants through the multilayering of space and time, the through-line, and
symbolization. In this section, I will look at the Rite II Eucharist from the point of view of
each of these.
Using this outline as a reference point, we shall now look at the efficacy of the
Rite II Eucharist from the point of view of each of the aspects of nondiscursive
communication, the through-line, performance space and time, and symbols.
What is the through-line of the Rite II Eucharistic liturgy as a processual
embodiment? What is the dynamic unity which carries the participants on from the
beginning to the end of the ritual? Although any through-line is difficult to grasp in
words, I believe that a fair expression of Rite El's through-line is in terms of the formation
of a new community. From the gathering of individuals from their scattered lives, to the
re-scattering of them back into the world after the "Thanks be to God" response at the
dismissal, the ritual takes the participants through a series of speech-acts (prayer,
confession, affirmation, etc.), symbolic gestures, and actions which forms them step-by-
step from a disparate aggregate of persons who come together in the ritual space to the
"People of God" (BCP, 364) who eat and drink together the bread and wine which they
acknowledge as the Body and Blood of Christ, and leave as "living members" of Jesus
Christ (366). As participants, they perform the ritual with their bodies, voices,
perceptions, emotions, minds, and imaginations within the boundaries of the ritual space
and time. This process can be understood as a series of scenes, each one of which ends
with a distinctive action which moves the ritual on to the next scene. They are (I have
italicized the pivotal actions ending each scene):
Scene 1 : The participants open themselves to a new communal identity in relation
to the divine — from the Opening Acclamation to the affirmation of faith in the Nicene
Scene 2: They deepen their commitment to one another and being to act as a new
community — from the Prayers of the People to the Peace and the Offertory.
Scene 3: They are consecrated as a holy people and fed with sacred food — from
the Sursum Corda-Preface-Sanctus to the Communion.
Scene 4: They acknowledge their new status as "living members" of Christ and go
forth — Postcommunion Prayer to the Dismissal.
This is powerful, and insofar as the members of the congregation do experience
this through-line, it would seem that the Rite II Eucharistic liturgy does have constitutive
efficacy, as described above: by participating in the ritual, they will come to a new or
reinforced sense of identity, of belonging. In addition, as this new People is sent forth into
the world, there is the hope of operational efficacy. But we need to distinguish in the case
of any ritual between its potential and its actual efficacy. It seems clear from the above
that Rite II is at least potentially effective. However, I believe that there are three serious
difficulties with the through-line of the Rite II Eucharist which impede the actualizing of
this potential efficacy. First, at certain points in the liturgy discrete sections are merely
juxtaposed — a + b + c — rather than one flowing "naturally" or "logically" into the other.
Second, the efficacy of the through-line is muted by the limited participation of the
worshippers in the actions of the liturgy. Third, the through-line is not assertive enough in
sending the newly formed People forth into the world.
Interruptions of through-line flow. When sections of the liturgy are merely juxtaposed,
following the liturgy becomes a matter of learning by rote what comes next rather than a
heart-felt experience of being borne along. In the Rite II Eucharist, at the end of the
liturgy of the Word, several actions follow one another which "work" fine separately, but
which give no sense of the progressive transformation of persons becoming more and
more deeply "a people." I have in mind the sequence of the Creed, followed by the
Prayers of the People, followed by the Confession. While in each of these speech-acts
individually an identity is clearly being formed — in the Creed, as believers in communion
with believers through the centuries; in the Prayers of the People, as compassionate
people linked with the widest possible community of care and concern ("the welfare of
the world"); in the Confession, as struggling persons who have failed to love God and
neighbor and yet are forgiven, strengthened, and kept "in eternal life" — there seems to be
no discernable path from one to another. Another mere one-after-another sequence, it
seems to me, is the move from the Great Amen to the Lord's Prayer to the Fraction. The
effect of the juxtaposition of these discrete sections is to limit the power of the ritual to
carry the participants through a transformation, in this case a transformation of identity. In
other words, the constitutive efficacy of the ritual is to some extent stunted.
Limited participation. A more serious problem with the through-line comes from the
restricted nature of the participation of the non-celebrants (i.e., the ones who are not
presiding) in the ritual. In the Eucharistic Prayer or Great Thanksgiving, for example, the
celebrant recites most of the prayers and performs the most significant ritual actions. The
other participants verbally respond in the Sursum Corda dialogue and the Memorial
Acclamation (in Prayer C there are more "lines" for the congregation, but still the bulk of
the prayers are said by the celebrant [BCP, 369-372]). Their ritual actions are restricted to
either standing or kneeling.
I want to argue that this seriously restricts the impact of the ritual, specifically
with respect to ritual's power to re-form the bodies of the participants. The text of a ritual
is intended to be embodied, and moves into embodiment through what contemporary
performance theorists call the "mise-en scene," defined as "a complex group of
operations, each of which transcribes a message written in a given sign system (literary
writing, musical notation) and turns it into a message capable of being inscribed on
human bodies and transmitted by those to the other bodies: a kind of somatography." 114
The "inscription" onto bodies takes place in the repeated actions — including speech-
acts — of the ritual in performance. While a performance of a Rite II Eucharist is
obviously embodied, and to that extent does inscribe the text on the bodies of the
participants, the amount of actual enactment other than simple postures and occasional
verbal acts is limited. The large exceptions to this are the exchange of the Peace, which is
optional; the bringing forward of the Offertory by representatives of the congregation
(BCP, 361), and the Communion, admittedly the primary symbolic act of the ritual.
However I find it poignant to read in Stulhman's outline the headings in quotation marks,
taken from the Order for Celebrating the Eucharist: "They [i.e., the priest and the people]
gather in the Lord's name," "They proclaim and respond to the Word of God," "They
make Eucharist," "They Break the Bread" In fact, they mostly do not do any of these
things, although ideal participants in the ritual will join explicitly or emotionally in the
prayers of the celebrant and be prayerfully "involved" in the celebrant's actions. But this
remains in most performances of the Eucharist an ideal rather than what actually happens;
the liturgy for the most part does not itself gather the people up in the through-line and
1 14 Jean-Francois Lyotard, quoted by Sudipo Chatterjee, "Mise-en-(Colonial-) Scene: The
Theatre of the Bengal Renaissance" in Imperialism and Theatre: Essays on World
Theatre, Drama and Performance ed. J. Ellen Gainor (London: Routledge, 1995), 25.
carry them along through active ritual participation. With the significant exceptions noted
above, the "inscriptions on the body" made by this ritual as it unfolds are minimal and
this diminishes its efficacy. Most especially, it limits the liturgy's operational efficacy, the
possibility of changing participants' behaviors in the world beyond the ritual.
Inadequate commissioning to "go forth. " The through-line of the Rite II Eucharist fails to
adequately send the participants back out into the world. There is, I believe, a tension
between the underlying through-line and the "script" of the words spoken at the end of the
liturgy. In the first alternative of the Postcommunion prayer, the celebrant and people
pray together: "Send us now into the world in peace, and grant us strength and courage to
love and serve you with gladness and singleness of heart ..." (BCP, 365); in the second,
they pray: "... send us out to do the work you have given us to do, to love and serve you
as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord" (BCP, 366). Then follows the Dismissal dialogue
for which the text gives four versions, to all of which the response is "Thanks be to God."
The first three — "Let us go forth in the name of Christ," "Go in peace to love and serve
the Lord," "Let us go forth into the world, rejoicing in the power of the Spirit" (BCP,
366) — clearly direct the people outward from the ritual space and time. In the
combination of the Postcommunion prayer and three versions of the Dismissal, then,
there is a clear directionality indicated by the text and enacted in speech-acts by the
celebrant and other participants. Yet it seems to me that this directionality is to some
extent contradicted or undermined by a through-line which seems to bring the ritual to an
end at the Communion, or, alternatively, treats the action of Communion as the
culmination of the ritual. This is apparent in the text of both the Rite II liturgy per se and
the Order for Celebrating the Holy Eucharist. In the former, the final heading in the text is
"The Breaking of the Bread" (364); in the latter, it is "[The People and Priest] Share the
Gifts of God" (BCP, 401). There is no separate heading highlighting the significance of
the sending out. This textual blindspot is reinforced by the fact that the "going forth" is
not ritualized in gesture or action, although, as we have seen, it is expressed in speech-
acts shared by the celebrant and the other participants. 115
Insofar as the participants leave the ritual as a People of God and members of
Christ, and "do the work [God] has given [them] to do," the ritual has strong operational
efficacy. But the concern expressed here is that the transition from the liturgy to daily life
is not upheld by the ritual's through-line, and that significantly weakens the crucial acts of
sending and going forth.
Space and Time
In the processual, embodied event which is the Rite II Eucharistic liturgy, as in all
other performances, the ordinary space and time of everyday life is overlaid with a
distinctive "dramatic" space-time which shapes the communication event as well as
delimiting who and what is included within it. I will discuss, in this section, two features
115 It is interesting to note that the fourth alternative Dismissal form is "Let us bless the
Lord" which nearly echoes the very first words of the liturgy: "Blessed be God: Father,
Son, and Holy Spirit . . . (BCP, 355), and seems, in circling back in this way, to further
weaken the sending forth.
of the space-time of the liturgy which affect the efficacy of the ritual: first, the
hierarchical ordering of the space, and second, the strongly revelatory character of the
liturgy's multilayering of space and time.
"Ordering" of the space and time. The ritual space in the Rite II Eucharistic liturgy is
primarily defined by the presence of an altar or "Holy Table" (BCP, 406), which should
be, Stuhlman says, "a freestanding table ... in the midst of the people rather than
separated from them." 116
Yet, as the ritual's participants gather, there is a clear spatial, as well as functional,
differentiation between the celebrant and the people. The differentiation is based on
ecclesiastical "order," the division of members of the denomination into bishops, priests,
deacons, and laity. That the differentiation of the participants into orders plays a
significant part in the enactment of the Rite II liturgy is witnessed to by the introductory
rubrics to the Eucharistic rites in the 1979 Prayer Book. Five out of six rubrics set out
positions and functions according to membership in one of the orders. In several of these
rubrics, status "position" and physical position are conjoined, for example in the rubric
stating that, "It is appropriate that the other priests present stand with the celebrant at the
Altar, and join in the consecration of the gifts, in breaking the Bread, and in distributing
Communion" (BCP 322). This indicates that, to some extent, where people are placed in
ll6 Stuhlman, Eucharistic Celebration, 152. Some rubrics within the Rite II Eucharistic
Prayer which refer to the Celebrant "facing the Holy Table" in apparent contrast to facing
the people, seem to be remnants from pre- 1979 celebrations of the Eucharist when the
altar was assumed to be fixed to the back wall. See, for example, BCP, 361.
the ritual space depends on a prior status, a persistent identity acknowledged by the
community and continuing in the world outside the ritual." 7 The altar is clearly associated
spatially with the priestly orders, with the celebrant (a bishop or priest) and other priests
clustered in its vicinity (although lay persons may be in this area as well), while the bulk
of the people are somewhat separate from it, whether in front, around, or on three sides of
the altar (Stuhlman's ideal configuration 118 ). The ordered (in several senses) nature of the
ritual space can be considered to form two performance areas — where the celebrant is and
where "the people" are.
The spatial ordering into two performance areas bridged by speech is broken
through by physical movements several times during the ritual, possibly in the optional
Gospel procession into "the midst of the people," possibly at the Peace (the Exchange of
the Peace is optional in Rite II), and definitely in the Offertory and Communion. The
rubrics for the Offertory are quite clear, in fact, that the two spaces should be traversed:
"Representatives of the congregation bring the people's offering of bread and wine, and
money or other gifts, to the deacon or celebrant" (BCP, 361). And the celebrant and other
ministers are instructed by the rubrics to "deliver [the Sacrament] to the people" (365)
who come forward to receive (BCP, 407).
The warping of the ritual space into a hierarchical "order"ing is reinforced at one
117 This is obviously quite different from an actor taking on a role for the duration of a
118 Stuhlman, 152.
point in the ritual by an analogous ordering of temporal sequence: one of the "Additional
Directions" specifies that "While the people are coming forward to receive Communion,
the celebrant receives the Sacrament in both kinds. The bishops, priests, and deacons at
the Holy Table then communicate, and after them the people" (BCP, 407). 119
The text of the liturgy does suggest another possible interpretation of the division
of space. The liturgy begins and ends with dialogues between the celebrant and the
people. The celebrant, people, and both together alternate speech-acts and actions
throughout the liturgy, although the greater part of each is performed by the celebrant.
Could the assignment of liturgical tasks and the consequent forming of the space by the
ritual be understood as dialogical, rather than hierarchical? The problem with this, of
course, is the underlying fact that the functions are underpinned by a status, canonical
order, which is itself permanently conferred by the prior ritual action of ordination. But,
as we will see in the final section, it may be fruitful to push Eucharistic liturgy and the
space it forms farther in the direction of a dialogical/functional, rather than a
However, given the dominance of the latter in the current Rite II liturgy, what impact
does the hierarchalization of the ritual space have on the efficacy of the liturgy? Another
formulation of this question in terms of our analysis of ritual as a communication event,
119 The Additional Directions (BCP, 406-409), like the rubrics in Concerning the Service
(BCP, 322), apply to both the Rite I and Rite II Eucharistic liturgies, and the Order for
Celebrating the Holy Eucharist.
is: what is communicated to the liturgy's participants by the hierarchalization of the space
and how well is it communicated? I see two answers. First, Rite II is constitutively
effective in establishing at least two identities within the ritual's participants — the
celebrant and others belonging to the "ordained" orders on the one hand, and "the people"
on the other. Given the dominant role of hierarchy in forming the ritual space, I believe
that the liturgy is quite effective in splitting the participants into (at least) two
hierarchically ordered identities. Second, the liturgy is effective in the first sense of
operational efficacy described above, 120 that of changing or reinforcing behavior having to
do with power relationships outside of the context of the ritual. In its formation of the
bodies of the ritual participants, the Rite II liturgy leads in the direction of an acceptance
of hierarchical relationships. This is so precisely because of the nondiscursive nature of
the ritual performance. This liturgy, as Zdzislaw Mach says of ritual in general, "creates a
reality of power, acts it out, and provides it with an aura of sacredness and traditional
values." 121 Hierarchical ordering in the Rite II liturgy is not stated, justified, thought — it is
enacted, embodied, and lived into.
Akahsah: what shines forth. As we have seen, it is an intrinsic quality of performance to
layer space and time in an ontologically complex communication event. As with all
performances, the external, physical space and time of the Eucharistic ritual have an
120 See above 42-44.
121 Mach, 83.
interior aspect as well; the outward spatial and temporal arrangements, even taken in
their simplest, linear senses are weighted with meanings, memories, and emotions. There
are a number of points at which either or both the ritual space and time are layered with
"more than" the here and the now. The "more than" comes to be and is revealed in the
ritual space and time, the akahsah of the performance. 122 Some significant examples are:
— the invoking of the divine presence into the ritual space with the dialogue, "The
Lord be with you'V'and also with you"
— the reading of the lessons (including the psalm and gospel) whose interwoven
stories, characters, images, and themes enrich the web of meanings, memories, and
emotions already present in the ritual space and time; in terms of time, the lessons also
contextualize the ritual in terms of the symbolic calendar of the liturgical year, itself
playing out the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ
— the drawing into the ritual space of objects of concern and thanksgiving;
reaching out to gather in "the World and the Church" (BCP, 400), in all its pain and joy
— the opening of the space to the heavenly "company of angels and archangels" in
— the acknowledgment of an eschatological dimension which is both here ("keep
you in eternal life" [BCP, 360] and "not-yet" ("thy kingdom come"[BCP, 364]} and the
implications of the request to be sent out "to do the work you have given us to do" )
— the deepening intensity of the past-becoming-present which begins with the
Eucharistic Prayer culminates in the physical eating and drinking of the Communion;
physical movement, touch, smell, taste, emotion in the present make the remembering of
the past events of Jesus' life and death radically here-and-now.
The multilayering of this space and time with other spaces and times in the
performance of the Rite II Eucharistic liturgy provides a rich matrix which works below
and beyond discourse in the communication event of the Eucharist. Past and future
become present, the whole worlds of earth and heaven become here. Because of this
layering, the ritual is efficacious in the revelatory sense. Insofar as the participants are
actively engaged in it, the liturgy is the medium for an encounter with an alternative
network of relationships in a layered time which is both "eternal life" (in which the
worshippers the participate) and yet a "not-yet-now": a network of relationships with the
whole world as an object of concern and thanksgiving; with the lineage of all the saints
and the "company of heaven," and with Jesus Christ, revealed in the stories of his life,
death, and resurrection and in the breaking of bread and pouring out of wine.
The Rite II liturgy, by virtue of its multilayering of space and time, has revelatory
efficacy for its participants insofar as they are actively engaged in it (see the discussion of
the through-line, above). The worshippers encounter a numinous realm, a vividly
expanded reality comprising the divine, the "company of heaven," the faithful living and
dead, and all who suffer. This vision-made-real breaks open a revelation of what is
possible, what can be hoped for, and from the perspective it reveals, ordinary, accepted
reality can be judged.
We have seen that the multilayered space and time of the Rite II Eucharistic
liturgy pulls in several quite different ways on the participants in the ritual. On one hand,
the ritual space in Rite II is primarily hierarchical space differentiated largely by "order,"
a permanent status, itself conferred ritually in ceremonies of ordination. This kind of
ritual space constitutively effects a division of identity into two groups — those who can
be celebrants and those who are "the people" — and operationally effects a tendency to
accept hierarchical power relationships in the extra-ritual world. On the other hand, the
numinous world which the liturgy layers with ordinary space and time reveals a divinely
warranted alternative to that ordinary world and exposes it — including at least some sorts
of power relationships — to judgement. In the Rite II liturgy, the various effects of the
communication to the participants arising from the nature of the ritual space and time thus
exist in radical tension with one another, with no clear resolution provided by the ritual
The third aspect we have been looking at in our study of performance is the web
of symbols which makes up the "material" or "stuff of the communication to and among
the participants in the performance. Symbols, as we have seen, can be physical objects,
gestures, or actions, as well as interactions among them. In the Rite II Eucharistic liturgy
the primary physical object symbols are the bread and the cup of wine, the altar or "Holy
Table," and money and other offerings besides the bread and wine. Of these, clearly the
most central are the altar, which literally "centers" the action, and the bread and the wine,
physical symbols which are richly multivalent and ambiguous. 123
Since the Eucharist is a performance, a processual whole, the physical symbols are
not merely statically present, but are ritually acted with and on in a complex of gestures
123 See above, 33-36.
and movements which also have symbolic force. Among these are: arranging of the
participants with respect to the altar; bringing forward the bread, wine, money, and other
offerings, and placing them on the altar; the officiant touching the bread and the cup
during the Institution Narrative, and of course, the climactic symbolic action of the eating
and drinking of the elements at the Communion. The symbolic objects and
gestures/movements are at the same time intertwined with the speech acts of the
Eucharistic Prayer from the Institution Narrative to the Doxology, the prayers at
Communion, and the post-Communion Prayer.
A number of gestures which occur in the ritual do not involve symbolic objects,
for example, the postures of standing or kneeling, the passing of the Peace and the
blessing gestures (when they are used). But they have the same characteristics as
symbolic objects: they carry a host of emotive, imagistic, and cognitive meanings which
are never able to be fully delimited and they have a power in themselves which attracts or,
sometimes, repels. Good indicators of the potency of symbolic gestures are the resistance
to the passing of the Peace in some churches and disagreements about standing versus
kneeling during the Eucharistic Prayer.
In our discussion above of the nature of ritual symbols, we cited Alexander
Schmemann's characterization of such symbols as "epiphanic," manifesting and
communicating the divine by virtue of itself participating in it. 124 The participant, we said,
124 See above, 62.
is drawn into the realm of the divine by the power of the ritual symbols. In the Rite II
Eucharistic ritual, the most powerful symbols are clustered around the Communion feast:
the bread, the wine, the altar/holy table, the People of God who share the feast, as well as
the symbolic actions of preparing, offering, and eating and drinking. They evoke (through
the speech-acts associated with them) especially the meanings of the Last Supper, the
Body and Blood of Christ "given for you," the "Gifts of God," and the paschal sacrifice
associated with the forming and freeing from bondage of the people of Israel.
In the communication event of the Rite II Eucharistic ritual, these central symbols
seem to function primarily to guarantee and uphold the formation of the new identity (or
the re-membering of the identity) of the participants as the People of God. They thus, at
least potentially, strengthen the constitutive efficacy of the ritual. Because of the
multivalency of the symbols any expression of this in words has to be kaleidoscopic (and
must always be partial): they become a consecrated people, sharing an eschatological
feast ("the holy food and drink of new and unending life in him" [BCP, 363]); they eat
and drink the Body and Blood of Christ, becoming members of Christ's body; they
partake of the paschal sacrifice, becoming a people saved by God's action as the Israelites
were saved; they receive the "Gifts of God."
While, however, the ritual uses the central symbolic objects and actions very
effectively to create and reinforce identity, it is weak from the point of view of
operational efficacy — it fails to exploit other meanings that would tend to push
participants outward into changed relationships and actions in the world beyond the ritual.
The equality of the sharing in the reception of Communion is potentially a challenge to
the People of God to confront structures of power in the world. The breaking of the bread,
the pouring out of the wine, as well as the identification of the broken bread and poured
out wine with the Body and Blood of Christ, could be mined for meanings that call for
passionate, self-giving action. In fact, however, the ritual's use of the symbolic content
reinforces the tendency of its through-line, as we saw above, to carry the worshippers to
the reception of Communion and then stop, treating the sending forth of the people as
We have considered the Rite II Eucharist from the 1979 Book of Common Prayer,
looking at the ways it communicates to participants by means of its through-line, layering
of space and time, and matrix of symbols, and evaluating how effective this
communication is in terms of its ability to change the participants and through them the
world outside the ritual. We have concluded that the ritual is potentially effective, but this
potentiality is to some extent not actualized because a. there are weaknesses in the
through-line which limit the formation of a new identity as the People of God and do not
provide a strong commission/dismissal to move the people outward into the world;
b. there are contradictory pulls in the space-time of the ritual between the strongly
revelatory character of the ritual's space-time and its hierarchalizing of space; and c. the
range of symbolic meanings highlighted in the ritual emphasizes the formation of identity
(constitutive efficacy) while failing to exploit other possible meanings which impel action
in the world (operational efficacy).
Indian Street Theatre and Eucharistic Liturgy: Towards a More Emancipatory
In this section we shall return to Indian street theatre, our paradigm of
emancipatory performance. We shall use it as a lens to sharpen our focus on issues in the
performance of the Eucharist, raise questions about that performance, and explore
possible directions towards a transforming of Eucharist liturgy so that it may more
effectively mediate the promise of emancipation/liberation/salvation.
In Chapter 1, we defined "emancipatory performances" as "performances which
lead to deeper and fuller humanity for some, without compromising the essential
humanity of others." 125 But while Indian street theatre clearly falls under this definition,
does it apply to Eucharistic rituals? Is this not too "humanistic" a definition for a religious
There are two responses to this objection. First, in the discussion of "humanity"
and "humanization" in Chapter 1, the concepts were defined broadly as ranging over all
the conditions of human life, from basic survival needs to a relationship with a
transcendent presence or ideal, beyond the here and now, and not "owned" by the present
moment. This latter clearly relates to religious ritual, and is even compatible with a quite
"spiritual" notion of salvation. Second, the participants in Eucharistic rituals are, for the
125 See above, 46.
most part at least, baptized Christians. They come to the Eucharist already ritually formed
by the sacrament of Baptism. As such, they have entered into a covenantal relationship
with God in which they have promised to "seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving
[their] neighbor as [themselves]" and to "strive for justice and peace among all people,
and respect the dignity of every human being" (BCP, 305). Echoes of this are heard
within the Rite II Eucharist itself, for example in the Confession, when the worshippers
confess that "we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves," express repentance, and ask
for forgiveness (BCP, 360). The Catechism of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer
reinforces the social — the human-directed — dimension of the Eucharist. It affirms that
one of the benefits of the Eucharist is "the strengthening of our union with Christ and one
another" (BCP, 860). And it includes among "what is required of us when we come to the
Eucharist," the stipulation that participants should "be in love and charity with all people"
(BCP, 860). The Eucharistic ritual, then, intends to be not only effective but emancipatory
in the sense defined in Chapter 1 — leading to deeper and fuller humanity, ultimately for
all people. And in so intending, it is a radical performance since it fulfills the definition of
challenging and re-envisioning "ingrained social arrangements of power" insofar as those
social arrangements prevent being in "love and charity" with all people, or impede
striving "for justice and peace among all people" and "respecting the dignity of every
Given this, then what can we learn about Eucharistic ritual from Indian street
theatre, our paradigm of emancipatory performance? What does it suggest for reforming
Eucharistic liturgy so that God's liberative/salvific action may be mediated and
communicated more effectively? We shall look briefly at each of the three components of
nondiscursive communication, asking what questions Indian street theatre raises for
Eucharistic liturgy in each of the areas of through-line, ritual space and time, and symbol,
and indicating for each some practical suggestions for re-forming liturgy to be a more
effectively emancipatory performance.
We saw in Chapter 1 how Indian street theatre radically challenges (consider
Mungai's The Newborn) and re -envisions (consider Ramanna's play about the indebted
couple saved by an act of Dalit solidarity) social structures which systemically prevent the
achievement of full humanity. This suggests that the through-line of any emancipatory
performance must involve the breaking down of structures and the posing of alternatives.
That is, it must processually embody opposition to oppression and re-envision a fuller
human life, a life of "justice, dignity, and peace."
But the firmly pragmatic character of Indian street theatre warns us that opposition
and re-envisioning which ends with the end of the performance is not emancipatory.
Rather, the through-line of an emancipatory performance must be strongly directional,
propelling the participants out into action towards actually creating the re-envisioned
alternatives in the world. It is certain that both Mungai and Ramanna intend the effects of
their work to continue long after the performance.
Taking Indian street theatre as paradigmatic of emancipatory performances, then,
suggests that for a Eucharistic ritual to be effective toward emancipation it should have a
through-line which a. poses a sharp distinction between what is and what is yearned for
and b. provides a clear trajectory which carries the participants beyond the ritual into the
daily world. It is important to note that these are not merely formal requirements towards
increased efficacy; "emancipatory" carries a distinctive content, as we have seen. So an
emancipatory Eucharistic ritual is called to oppose whatever limits the achievement of
full humanity, and to launch participants into efforts to create a world in which "the
forces of love, justice, and peace may prevail," in the words of C.S. Song, 126 or,
alternatively, in which the promises of the Baptismal covenant are truly lived out.
The critique in the last section of the through-line of the Rite II liturgy from the
point of view of efficacy has consequences for its emancipatory power and can be
re framed more strongly in emancipatory terms: God's liberative/salvific action is
communicated less effectively than it might be by the through-line of the Rite II liturgy
because it forms the bodies of the participants in a very limited way and fails to provide a
sufficient underpinning for the sending forth of the worshippers to work to create a world
of justice, peace and dignity for all people. A re-formed Eucharistic ritual seeking to be
more emancipatorily effective will need to provide a more explicitly oppositional,
visionary, and directional through-line which is enacted in a more participatory way by
126 Song, 185.
the worshippers. I want to suggest two quite general ways of re-forming the through-line
of the Eucharistic liturgy:
Finding and implementing an alternative. We have seen that one articulation of the
through-line of the Rite II liturgy is the formation of a new community. The ritual, as we
saw, ideally takes the participants step-by-step from people who come together out of
their disparate lives and forms them into a "People of God," and sends them out of the
ritual as "living members" of Jesus Christ. 127 But we identified a tendency to linger within
the ritual; the through-line does not seem to move participants strongly enough out of the
ritual and into the world.
I want to suggest an alternative through-line for a reconstructed Eucharistic ritual:
a dynamic unity consisting of a double motion which involves both breaking down
barriers — between past and present, future and present, heaven and earth; among the
participants; between those praying here and those suffering there — and entering into
com-munion. In its double motion, this through-line would communicate the reality of the
realm of God in which all are invited to the feast, all forgive and are forgiven, all receive
their daily bread. Once the participants have entered into the ritual they are carried along
by this double motion and then — since it is about breaking through barriers — the "internal
logic" of the through-line carries them out beyond the apparent boundary of the end of the
ritual into a way of life which enacts the same dynamic of breaking down and bringing
127 See above, 77.
into union what has been separated. Like the ripples of questioning left behind in the
villages by Mungai's play, the pattern established by the double current of the through-
line will ripple outward to continue the effect of the ritual in the world: to break down
barriers to justice, dignity, and peace.
I am influenced in this formulation of an alternative through-line for the
Eucharistic ritual by Alexander Schmemann, who sees the sacraments, especially the
Eucharist, as the way the church "fulfills itself as the body of Christ, as the divine
parousia — the presence and the communication of Christ and his kingdom." 128 For
Schmemann, that sacramental presence and communication results, for those who
encounter it and in it experience God's love, in their becoming "real co-workers in the
work of Christ," 129 committed to the transformation of "state, society, culture, [and]
nature itself." 130 I believe that in a reconstructed Eucharistic ritual, the encounter with the
powerful, faithful, ongoing action of God in breaking down barriers and bringing what
was separated into com-munion would indeed form "real co-workers in the work of
The alternative through-line suggested here would affect the order of prayers and
actions in the ritual. I want to point out just one possibility. In Eucharistic Prayer D of
128 Alexander Schmemann, "The Missionary Imperative in the Orthodox Tradition," in The
Theology of the Christian Mission (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1961), 253.
129 Ibid., 255.
130 Ibid., 256.
Rite II, the Epiclesis is followed by a brief version of the Prayers of the People. I believe
that this positioning should be normative for an emancipatory Eucharistic ritual. It seems
to me ideal that precisely at this sacred time of remembrance of Christ's life, death, and
resurrection the hearts of the worshippers are called upon to break down barriers of
distance, ignorance, insensitivity, and demonization, to achieve the com-munion of
concern and empathy for the other. The Indian theologian Kenith David vividly expresses
this connection between intercessory prayer and the breaking of barriers:
In its origins, ['intercession'] connotes the fullness and depth
of an encounter with another human being. Its image of being beside
someone in need is succinctly rendered in English by the phrase, 'to
feel the pulse.' Feeling the pulse requires two people to be beside each
other, one holding the wrist of the other. Feeling the pulse enables the
recognition and identification of pain; it has to do with life-and-blood
realities. If feeling the pulse leads to the prescription and implementation
of remedies, then our intercessions in church or anywhere else must
become the nerve-center and backbone of our remedies for economic
dislocation, political bankrupcy, cultural recovery and renewal, and so on. 131
Increased participation. In the analysis of the Rite II liturgy above, I argued that the
efficacy, especially the operational efficacy, of the ritual was limited by the lack of active
participation by "the people" during significant sections, for example during the
Eucharistic Prayer. Related to this is the failure to explicitly ritualize crucial parts of the
liturgy like the Dismissal. The following suggestions are ways in which a reconstructed
Eucharistic liturgy could increase participation of "the people" and ritualization of crucial
'Kenith David, Sacrament and Struggle (Geneva: WCC Publications, 1994), 38.
parts of the breaking of boundaries and joining into fuller com-munion:
— Procession of the people to the altar at the Offertory and gathering around the
altar for the Eucharistic Prayer and beyond should be made normative. This action of the
whole "people" is an expansion of the Rite II liturgy's insistence that "representatives of
the congregation bring the people's offerings of bread and wine, and money or other gifts,
to the deacon or celebrant" (BCP, 361). What is a representative act should be made an
act of the whole. The action of moving together into the space where the eschatological
feast will be celebrated is at the same time an enacted remembering of the Exodus event
which formed the Israelites into one people; of the many times Jesus fed and/or ate with
people, often breaking the boundaries of social class and purity/impurity; and of the
eschatological banquet which will be made "for all peoples" (Is. 25:6).
— The Eucharistic Prayer should be reframed so that the individual sections are
shorter and are each followed by an appropriate response. 132
— A more radical sharing of the ritual actions would involve multiple loaves and
cups place around the Holy Table, with the "taking, blessing, and breaking" 133 performed
by a number of people.
132 Eucharistic Prayer C (BCP, 370-372) follows this pattern, but the prayers should be still
more brief, and the response, instead of varying, be the same, which would entail less
focus on the written word in the Prayer Book and more on what is going on in the Prayer
itself, as well as giving a deeper and more rhythmic intensity to the action. Again, the
most effective ritual action — which includes speech-acts — is nondiscursive.
'"Three of the four components of the "shape" of the Eucharistic ritual (the fourth is
sharing, in the Communion) identified by Dom Gregory Dix. Cited in Stuhlman, 126-7.
— The Dismissal should be expanded and more fully ritualized. The function of
this section of the Eucharist is not to provide a tidy ending to a worship performance.
Rather, like the opening of the question of female infanticide to the audience in Mungai's
The Newborn, its point is to "create ripples," or to carry the through-line beyond the
performance into the world of daily life. It is the "missio," the "ite, missa est" of the Latin
Mass, whose very name conveys the notion of "sending." Some possible enactments:
a. The Lord's Prayer, with its familiar but powerful linking of daily bread, daily
forgiveness with the "kingdom, power, and glory" of the divine might be said after the
b. The Post-Communion prayers should include a sense of commissioning, of
being sent out together into the world, as well as an opportunity for self-dedication. A
possible form would be :
O God, through the grace of your Son Jesus Christ and the
power of the Holy Spirit, grant us those gifts we need to do your work
in the world. Here people name specific gifts — e.g., a prophetic voice,
courage, holy anger, compassion . . . There should be silence after each
naming. Touch us with new life, fill us with hope that your kingdom will
come, the hungry will be fed, the oppressed set free, and your reconciling
work be done, so that the whole earth will be filled with your glory. 134
c. The Dismissal should be just that — a dis-missal, a separating, a cutting off
134 The ending of this prayer (after the rubrics), is adapted from Christopher Duraisingh
and Eric Lott, "An Indian Liturgy," in Worship in an Indian Context ed. Eric J. Lott
(Bangalore: United Theological College, 1986), 77. Note the powerful use of the
indicative mood ("will come," etc.), rather than the usual explicit or implied subjunctive
mood ("may come") of much liturgical language.
from the safe mooring of "holy space." Not only should it be ritualized but the
ritualization should have energy. One possible way to enact the dismissal in a
conventional church space would be for the worship leaders to say words of dismissal and
then follow the people, led by a crucifer, to and even out the door.
All of these suggestions involve increased participation, and thus a more active
forming of the body of the individual worshipper and the corporate body of worshippers
with the intent of increasing the operational efficacy of the liturgy in the direction of
Ritual Space and Time
Looking at the nature of the space-time complexity of the Rite II Eucharistic
liturgy through the lens of Indian street theatre, we can see two shifts in emphasis for a
reconstructed ritual that would more effectively mediate the emancipatory power of the
Eucharist. First, Indian street theatre is firmly embedded in the existential struggles of
daily life and is actually performed in the midst of those struggles. An effectively
emancipatory Eucharistic ritual will be contextual, rooted more deeply and explicitly in
the lived world of the participants and especially in the sufferings of that world. The
situating of most Eucharistic rituals in bounded holy spaces — churches, chapels, or
cathedrals — tends to loosen the connections of the worshippers to the contexts in which
they live their lives. In ritual, they often become less, rather than more, humanly
To reconstruct Eucharistic ritual using the paradigm of Indian street theatre, we
must ask how the conditions which now are holding people in bondage, both in and
beyond the immediate community of the worshippers can be most effectively pointed to
within the ritual. We must ask how the people who are now suffering, excluded,
oppressed, treated as expendable, can be gathered into the ritual space and how the arena
of their suffering can be grasped by the liturgy's participants as where they are being sent.
Both could be accomplished by a sharpening of the Prayers of the People so that the
participants in the ritual overtly open themselves to the reality of those who suffer
(including, it must be said, their own sorrows, fears, and pain 135 ). The formulations of
these prayers must be quite deliberate, in order to ensure that the ritual participants face
what one Indian theatre activist called "the reality around us that we try to evade." 136
But I see the paradigm of Indian street theatre as calling Eucharistic liturgy to a
more radical and literal shift with respect to space. Perhaps the time has come to shift the
normative space of the ritual from church to streets, parks, and public buildings. The
sacred space necessary for the performance of the Eucharist can be created by the simple
135 Randall Nichols addresses the confrontation with the suffering among the participants
of the ritual as one aspect of the liminality: ". . . if sensitively and intelligently done,
[worship] can address and draw out those aspects of our real, everyday existence which in
fact are already liminal — whether it be poverty, illness, loss of a job, divorce,
bereavement, dislocation, or anything else. ..." "Worship as Anti-Structure: the Contribution of
Victor Turner," Theology Today, no. 41 (Jan. 1985), 408.
i36 Kulavai '96 (Chennai [Madras]: M. S. Swaminathan Research Foundation, 1997),
presence of a table and the ritual action of gathering the people. Enacting the Eucharistic
ritual in "public" spaces would have strong efficacy towards emancipation in a number of
ways: a. it would firmly root the performance in local conditions of suffering,
exploitation, and exclusion; b. it would form the identity of — literally — a wayfaring
"People of God"; and c. it would underline the directionality of the ritual, since the
"boundary" between Eucharistic performance and the world of daily living would be
clearly seen as a permeable
boundary that must be crossed. 137
Second, a reconstructed Eucharist must challenge established power relationships
by addressing the hierarchalization of ritual space we saw in Rite n. The way ritual
participants are distributed in space, the ways they are allowed and not allowed to move,
are operationally effective and establish what are counted as right relationships in the
world outside the ritual. 138 The Roman Catholic liturgist Mary Collins asserts that "rituals
are about relationships." 139 An attempt to construct a more effectively emancipatory
Eucharistic ritual must grapple with the issue of what kinds of relationships to embody
and enact in the ritual space as "rehearsals" of transformed relationships in the extra-ritual
137 A11 of these are in evidence every week at the Common Cathedral service, a Eucharist
celebrated for a congregation of homeless persons and others on Boston Common by the
Rev. Deborah Little.
138 See above, 42-3, on the operational efficacy of performance.
139 Mary Collins, "Principles of Feminist Liturgy," in Women in Worship ed. Marjorie
Proctor-Smith and Janet R. Walton (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993), 11
world. Given the realities of Episcopal Church order and the theology of ordination, re-
forming the Eucharistic liturgy must allow for some functional division by order,
especially in the requirement that a bishop or priest preside or be one of the presiders at
the Eucharistic prayer. However, even given the need to conform to present canonical
requirements, the relationships embodied and enacted in the ritual space can be made
more dialogical. Some strategies:
— The celebrants or "presiders" could be scattered among the people, at least for
the Liturgy of the Word and possibly for the Eucharistic Prayer. Multiple voices coming
from different directions are very effective in changing the sense of space.
— Where logistically feasible, the homily might be preceded or followed by other
participants' reactions to the lessons.
— Much more can be made of the Offertory procession. It can certainly be made
more festive, using music and movement to express and evoke emotions of overflowing
thanksgiving: is this not a "Eucharist," a thanksgiving?
— Greater use could be made of litanies and other forms involving responses,
including, as was mentioned above, the Eucharistic Prayer.
— Communion could be given and received in smaller groups scattered around the
ritual space. The altar would function as a center around which stations for Communion
would form, creating a circular space rather than a "head and foot" or "forward and
What insights does the perspective of Indian street theatre as emancipatory
performance bring to the use of symbols in the Eucharistic liturgy? As we have seen, the
major symbols in the Rite II liturgy are bread, wine, the altar or "holy table," and the
People of God, together with the symbolic actions associated with them. Two
reorientations to these fundamental Eucharistic symbols are suggested by the paradigm of
Indian street theatre. First, Indian street theatre, while making use of powerful symbols,
often revalues them. Symbols which are revered in the dominant culture, for example,
may be ridiculed or otherwise denigrated while an object or action characteristic of the
life of the oppressed or the excluded may be elevated to a status of honor. 140 Or the
symbol may be plumbed for hitherto unrealized meanings — or questioned — as in the
street production by Pralayan's troupe which addressed the problem of female infanticide
obliquely by portraying the story of a daughter who remains as the only faithful child to
light her father's funeral pyre, a role traditionally reserved for the son. 141
Analogously, from the multivalent symbols of bread and wine, additional
meanings to those used in the Rite II Eucharist may be drawn on in a reconstructed
liturgy. In line with the emancipatory call to seek justice, peace, and dignity for all
140 In recent years, many Dalits have reclaimed the playing of their traditional frame drums
as a sign of identity and pride, despite the fact that historically the drums functioned as
symbols of their subservience, since they were linked with notions of
death/pollution/impurity and played at caste Hindu funerals. See Clarke, 67.
141 Pralayan, interview by author, Chennai (Madras), 18 July, 1998.
people, other meanings of these central symbols may be highlighted, meanings which
draw the ritual's participants, through the power of the symbols, into the reality of the
sufferings of poverty and exploitative social relationships. Bread and wine, for example,
are produced by human labor in collaboration with the fecundity of the earth, and they are
inextricably enmeshed in economic structures of production and distribution. Some
people have bread and wine easily, "freely," without thinking about it. Others struggle
daily for enough food and drink to maintain the lives of themselves and their children.
The meanings evoked by the physical bread and wine and the ritual gestures and actions
in which they are embedded will, in a more effectively emancipatory Eucharist, include
the processes by which and the social structures within which, the bread and wine were
produced. As Enrique Dussel has compellingly expressed it: "The bread contains the
objective life of the worker, his blood, his intelligence, his efforts, his love, his
enjoyment, his happiness, the kingdom .... For this bread to become the very 'body' of
the lamb that was slain it has to be the bread of life, — bread that has satisfied, fed, denied
the denials of death, need, domination, sin: the bread of justice." 142 Dussel approaches
here something close to the kind of revaluation of symbols that we spoke about with
respect to Indian street theatre, a revaluation which arises out of opposition to exploitative
structures and a steady awareness of human suffering. The power of the symbols remains,
142 Enrique Dussel, "The Bread of the Eucharistic Celebration as a Sign of Justice in the
Community," in Can We Always Celebrate the Eucharist ed. Mary Collins and David
Power (New York: Seabury Press, 1982), 61.
but the participant in being drawn into them is at the same time propelled outward,
towards systems of justice or injustice in the world beyond the ritual. Here, as qualities of
the communication of the Eucharistic liturgy to its participants, we have the same crucial
characteristics of emancipatory performance, oppositionality and directionality, which we
pointed to in our discussion of the through-line.
Another set of meanings which should be brought to the foreground in a more
emancipatorily effective Eucharistic ritual clusters around the bread and wine as Body
broken and Blood poured out. These meanings, while drawing participants into the
symbols, at the same time function to push them back out into the world of effective
action to carry out God's work of justice, dignity, and peace. 143
Second, in Indian street theatre, symbols are fluid. They appear in the performance
as they are useful for the emancipatory intent of the creators. This is not to say that the
symbols used in these performances are not powerful, nor that they do not have weight
outside the performance, but they are chosen by the performance's creators to respond to a
particular situation; they are always instrumental, invoked and enacted in order to forward
the emancipatory purposes of the performance. Drawing on this instrumental freedom, it
is possible to think of augmenting the symbol system of a Eucharistic ritual with
143 The question of raising self-sacrifice as a value could be raised here. Some feminists,
womanists and other presently and formerly colonized people may quite properly object
that one facet of their oppression is the expectation of self-sacrifice in the interests of the
dominant. I am speaking, however, from my social location as a middle-class Euro-
American, from a culture in which consumerism, selfishness, and self-aggrandizement are
additional symbols, specifically symbolic objects or actions that evoke awareness of those
who are excluded from the table because of systems of superiority-inferiority, ethnic or
religious hatreds, or other invidious systems of relationships. One such symbol is an
empty chair which could stand on the side of or (as long as it is visible) in back of the
altar. The chair could be incorporated in acts of prayer as well as movement. Some
a. At the Offertory, the chair, after the gifts are brought forward and received,
and the people have themselves come forward, the worship leaders could move to the
chair and pray with the people for those who lack food, who starve while they produce
bread for others, for all who weep and are persecuted.
b. A worship leader could also move to the chair and touch it at the Prayers of
the People and lead a prayer, as for example: "Remember, O God, those who are not with
us today, those who are alienated from this community, and all who are excluded or cast
out throughout the world. We hold before you today especially N and N [here the
celebrant and other participants name individuals or groups who are shut off from full
human community in some way] . . . ." 144
144 The symbol of the empty chair and the prayer above were incorporated in a Eucharistic
liturgy, "A Foretaste of the Messianic Banquet," developed collaboratively by Christopher
Madeiros, Joan Murray, and myself in June, 1998. The use of the empty chair as symbol
may be problematic because of its very different use in the traditional celebration of
In this section we looked through the lens of Indian street theatre as emancipatory
performance at the Rite II Eucharistic ritual. We saw that there is a common or at least an
overlapping content to the notion of "emancipation" in both, having to do with the
creation of conditions of justice, peace, and dignity for all humanity. Then, using Indian
street theatre as a paradigm of emancipatory communication, we discerned a number of
possible directions for re-forming Eucharistic liturgy so that God's emancipatory/salvific
work might be more effectively communicated. With respect to the through-line, our look
at Indian street theatre pointed to a re-visioned ritual whose through-line was more
explicitly oppositional, participatory, and directional. With respect to ritual space-time,
the paradigm indicated two directions for re-forming the Eucharistic ritual: a.
contextualizing the ritual — including the possibility of taking it out of the church into
public spaces — to take account of present suffering as object of both prayer and work,
and b. dismantling the hierarchalization of ritual space. Finally, with respect to the
symbolic matrix of the ritual, we saw in the nimbus of meanings carried by the central
symbols a range of meanings which are implicit or ignored in the Rite II Eucharist, but
could be brought into the foreground; these include the bread and wine as the product of
human labor and actual food for those who are hungry, as well as the image of self-giving
love implicit in the breaking of the bread and the pouring out of the wine. And, finally,
we noted the possibility of augmenting the Eucharistic symbol system with additional
symbols pointing to those who are excluded from the table because of dehumanizing
In this paper we have come to an appreciation of both the fecundity and the
potency of performance as a medium, and of the way the transforming power of liturgy
arises out of its nature as performance. As an embodied process, performance
communicates from person to person, from body to body, from heart to heart. As we have
seen in our look at Indian street theatre, the power of performance springs not from the
cognitive content of what it might say, but from the way the message is conveyed below
and beyond discursive language through an underlying unifying dynamic, through the
multilayering of space and time, and through symbols that spark emotions and draw
people into their rich multivalency and ambiguity, making participants of observers.
We have seen how the ontological complexity of performance — its creation of a
new, integral reality out of "dramatic reality" layered with the ordinary, accepted world of
everyday — allows vision, revelation, to be lived in and into. We have also come to
understand the other side of ontological complexity, how it creates a state of liminality in
which what is "normal," 'the way things are," is rendered contingent. We have noted the
connections between this double-sided power of ontological complexity and the power of
performance to transform both participants and the worlds they live in. And our look at
Indian street theatre in particular has given vivid examples of how this power can be used
towards emancipation, towards a fuller humanity for all people.
Finally, we have used the understanding of emancipatory performance to shed
new light on religious ritual and especially on Eucharistic liturgy which at its very heart is
radical performance. The point of this exploration is not, however, simply to understand
how God's redemptive action is mediated in the liturgy of the Eucharist. The notions of
through-line, space-time multilayering, and symbols can be consciously used by liturgists
and even by worship leaders in local churches to provide clues for reshaping Eucharistic
practice towards emancipatory transformation. This is not manipulation; rather, it is a way
towards fuller participation in the saving work of God.
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